§ 12.10 a.m.
§ Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has always been of the greatest assistance to me and my constituents in matters concerning roads in North Berkshire, but he will agree with me that in the last few months something has gone seriously wrong with the planning of the second stage of the Abingdon bypass and the link road to Didcot. This has caused considerable exasperation and inconvenience in view of the previous assurances which Ministers have given over the past two years that the two stages of the Abingdon bypass would be built in succession and without a prolonged interval between them.
402 On 28th March my hon. Friend wrote to me saying that the Didcot link road was in the preparation list. I thought this was very welcome. I wish to refer to the rather confusing Press release which his Department gave afterwards, giving details of the interchanges and side roads of stage two between Drayton and Chilton. In a Written Answer on 29th March he included the Faringdon bypass as well, which is also in my constituency, and which I hope he will mention in his reply tonight. I express my thanks to him on behalf of Faringdon for the inclusion of the Faringdon bypass, and also to all the local authorities and the action group who worked very hard to get this result.
But I should mention that the news of the inclusion of the Faringdon bypass in the preparation list was somewhat marred by the Berkshire county surveyor, who, during the filming of a BBC "Man Alive" programme on Friday, chose to say that it would be six to eight years before the bypass was built, which rather dampened the spirits of the audience.
Berkshire County Council has issued a more reassuring statement, and it will be for Oxfordshire County Council— under the local government reorganisation my constituency will go to Oxfordshire—to decide on the speed of construction. But I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to use his good offices and say that procedures are being followed which will speed things up, that the paper work is being cut down and that the bypass will be built in a much shorter period.
The second stage of the Abingdon bypass, included in the statement my hon. Friend made on 29th March, has been the subject of correspondence throughout 1971 and 1972. In 1971 my hon. Friend's predecessor, now Minister for Aerospace, said that both stages should be built in one contract, and as late as 24th January 1973 my hon. Friend himself evidently hoped that the gap in the completion of the two stages would be very narrow. But on 21st February he had to inform me that the status of the Didcot link road had not been settled and that this would cause delay in publishing the interchanges and the side roads. They were published last week, 403 but even so it appears to me from what I have heard that 12 months will elapse between the end of stage one and the beginning of stage two, which, on a two-year contract, means that three to four years at least will elapse before the whole bypass is built. I assume that the first stage will be finished fairly soon, and as there has been fine weather recently this is to be expected perhaps by the autumn, according to local reports.
There is no doubt that there has been an administrative tangle and some serious planning mistakes have been made. The consequences for the surrounding villages must be considered. It is still not absolutely clear from my hon. Friend's Department's Press release how far the Didcot link will go. To be effective, it must go to the far side—that is to the east or Wallingford side of Didcot. If it is only to go from the new interchange at Milton Heights to the Foxhall Road it will not bring about the radical improvement in the Didcot road system that is so needed. I hope that my hon. Friend will deal with that point in his reply. The Press release of 29th March does not make clear that the road is in the preparation list, although one knows that that is so.
To return to the interchanges, on the second stage of the bypass the plan has now been changed from having an interchange at Drayton, where there is to be a flyover, to one at Milton Heights. When will work on stage two begin as a result of the latest announcement about these interchanges? This is of enormous consequence to the village of Steventon, through which vehicles travel southwards probably at speeds of up to 70 miles an hour on dual carriageway along stage one to a point north of Drayton. This will affect safety in the village. Some 19 per cent. of the traffic will be heavy vehicles, and, according to local calculations, 40 per cent. of local traffic will create a dangerous situation on the existing A34, which will continue after stage one as far as Chilton. Will my hon. Friend say what effect the temporary terminal connection now being constructed at Drayton is likely to have on this position? Between Drayton and Steven-ton the stretch of A34 requires special safety measures if this is to happen, 404 particularly at the S-bend opposite Esso House.
Some constructive suggestions have been made locally. The Steventon Road Safety Association has also proposed some steps of which I have given my hon. Friend notice. The first is that there should be a 40 miles an hour limit on the A34 from the end of stage one to the existing 30 miles an hour speed limit in Steventon. The second point the association makes is that the existing plans to raise the 30 m.p.h. limit through Steventon should be scrapped, at any rate for the present. The third point it makes is that there should be traffic lights at Hanney Road, at which a lot of the traffic turns off the A34. Fourthly, it suggests that there should be a pedestrian crossing or footbridge in Steventon.
Other neighbouring villages are affected by the delay in the planning and construction of the bypass. For example, the village of Milton is suffering from a steady flow of lorries to a new industrial estate, which will continue until the interchange at Milton Heights is built. Therefore, the sooner the planning and construction can be speeded up the better for them. At the village of Chilton, at the south end of stage two, there is considerable uncertainty about the future. It is difficult for pedestrians to cross the A34 or to emerge by car from the village into dense traffic.
The proposed interchange at Chilton will, in fact, go straight through an existing service station belonging to Mr. Hodsdon, my constituent, about whom the Minister already knows. Mr. Hodsdon has been trying to make improvements to his service station. Can he be told his position as soon as possible, particularly with regard to compensation?
There is also a large area of land on the Manor Estate, Chilton, which has been blighted for the past 10 years by the knowledge that this second stage of the bypass was to be constructed in that area.
Now that the side roads and interchanges have been published by my hon. Friend, subject to objection before 8th June next, can he say what procedures will be followed to make up for lost time? I am not interested in blaming people too much for these delays. 405 Obviously, there must be some explanation, but the clock cannot be put back. What I would ask him to do is to take steps to speed up those procedures so as to save my constituents anxiety and possibly the lives of several of them. I hope that my hon. Friend can reassure them tonight.
§ 12.21 a.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Keith Speed)
First, I should like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) for the remarks at the start of his speech. As he and I both know, on various occasions, certainly over the past year, he has impressed on me his concern and that of his constituents about a series of road schemes. I know that before that my hon. Friend who is now the Minister for Aerospace and Shipping was similarly pressed several times by my hon. Friend.
My hon. Friend is particularly concerned on behalf of his constituents living in the Steventon area about the effects of the gap between the completion dates of the first and second stages of the Abingdon bypass.
Perhaps before I deal with that, the main subject of this debate, I should say a word about the Faringdon bypass. My attention has been drawn by my hon. Friend to the remarks of the Berkshire county surveyor last week, and I understand—I have a copy here—that statements have been issued both by the vice-chairman of the Berkshire County Council highways and bridges committee and by the Chairman of the Berkshire County Council. It is fair to paraphrase both those statements as saying that they hope that, with the speed-up in consultation and other procedures, which are the responsibility of the county council, it will be possible to improve upon the estimate of six to eight years mentioned by the county surveyor last week.
The Faringdon bypass is essentially a matter for the local authority concerned. Nevertheless, so far as my Department has an interest in this—and, of course, we do, not least in providing the money and in the programming and the rest— we shall be pleased to consider the proposals sympathetically, and I hope speedily, when they come to us from the county council.
406 There is to be a change of highway authority for the Faringdon area on the reorganisation of local government, and I understand that schemes such as this, which will be subject to a change of highway authority, have already been the subject of discussions between the two counties concerned. My Department's regional controller's office is maintaining a watching brief to ensure that the takeover is a smooth one.
On the main question of the Abingdon bypass, my hon. Friend has alerted me to the likelihood that difficult traffic-conditions may be experienced on the existing A34 between Drayton and Chilton during the construction of the second stage, and he has pointed to the risk that these conditions could be aggravated as a result of the completion of the first stage, which will make a fast road leading through to the uncompleted second stage.
I certainly share my hon. Friend's concern, and everything which can be done to speed up the second stage is being done. As he said, a significant step forward was taken last week, with the publication in draft of the side roads order.
Urgent as is the need, my hon. Friend will appreciate that we must follow the statutory procedures. We must ensure that the proposals which we put forward for connections with and alterations to other roads will satisfactorily meet the need for links not only with the existing road system but—this is important— with other proposed roads in the area. We must ensure also that where there is a close relationship between a road for which the Secretary of State is responsible—a trunk road—and a road for which the local highway authority is responsible the differing procedures which have to be followed for each road are carefully co-ordinated.
Nothing is gained by the premature publication of proposals that are unlikely to win general acceptance, and a great deal of time can be lost if proposals have to be withdrawn, reconsidered and republished.
It was important, therefore, that my Department should satisfy itself that the proposals for interchanges on the Drayton-Chilton section, which were published last week and are now open to 407 objection on the time scale mentioned by my hon. Friend, would be justifiable and would adequately meet the needs of traffic. Within the next few weeks the Department will publish further orders concerned with the connection at Drayton between stages one and two and with the compulsory acquisition of the land required for stage two. That will meet the point about Mr. Hodsdon, to which my hon. Friend was referring, because it will be the draft compulsory purchase order for the land required for the roadworks which, I understand, will affect Mr. Hods-don's property. As owner of the property, Mr. Hodsdon will be entitled to compensation in accordance with the usual rules. In assessing the compensation the district valuer will have regard to all the relevant circumstances at the time, including any planning consents which Mr. Hodsdon may then have for his property.
Provisional arrangements are being made to hold a public inquiry in September, if one proves to be necessary, to look into objections to any of these orders. Subject to satisfactory completion of these procedures, and the availability of funds—that is always a caveat which one has to enter—we aim to make a start on stage two at the end of 1974 with a view to completion at the end of 1976.
The first stage from South Hinksey to Drayton is under construction and is due to be completed at the end of this year. Thus there will be a gap of about three years between the completion of stage one and the completion of stage two. I agree that it is disappointing that this gap will be about a year longer than we had earlier hoped, but there have been problems requiring considerable negotiation and detailed investigation to overcome.
The plan of this route was fixed in January 1971 and indicated a possible site for an interchange to serve Didcot between the existing A4130 and A417. After the line had been fixed, the recommendations of the Didcot-Abingdon-Wantage Transportation Study became available. They included a proposal for a new link road to serve Didcot which would cross the new A34 route near Milton Heights. In the light of this recommendation, the interchange proposals for the Chilton-Drayton length were reviewed. In place of the A417-A4130 interchange, consulta- 408 tions with local authorities, preparatory to publication of the Department's proposals, were carried out in February 1972 on the basis of an interchange to serve Didcot at Milton Heights. At this time the programme envisaged publication of the draft side roads order in April 1972, to coincide with the expected publication by Berkshire County Council of formal proposals for the Didcot link in the form of a planning application. This would allow the application to be called in by the Secretary of State and taken to a joint public inquiry with the interchange proposals, if a public inquiry should become necessary. In the event, Berkshire County Council's application was not published until 21st September 1972 and publication of the Department's side roads order was deferred accordingly.
In the meantime—this is where my Department has a responsibility—some doubts were felt within the Department about the status of, and the necessity for, the Didcot link, and it was decided that publication of the interchange proposals must be withheld until these questions were resolved.
After discussions between the Department and the county council, it was agreed that an interchange at Milton Heights should be included in the Department's proposals in anticipation of the acceptance of the Didcot link proposal, but it was felt that the case for an additional interchange with the A417, including a link road to the A4130, should also be investigated. As a result of the investigations, which have now been completed, it has been decided not to include a proposal for the A417-A4130 interchange. The side roads order now published provides for an interchange at Milton Heights and a free-flow connection with the existing A34 at Chilton. The Milton Heights interchange will connect with the A34 at Steventon via a new link road and with Potash Lane.
It has been designed to connect also with the Didcot link road proposed by the Berkshire County Council. The Department has considered the county council's planning application and informed it that it accepts the necessity for the link. But, since the link as proposed will be possible only if the Milton Heights interchange is constructed, no final decision on the planning application will 409 be taken until it is known whether a public inquiry will be held into the interchange proposal. If there is an inquiry, it would seem desirable to deal with the Didcot link at the same time.
I am pleased to be able to say that the Didcot link has not been added to the preparation list. This is a scheme for which Berkshire County Council is responsible. The planning application relates only to the first stage, from Milton Heights to Foxhall Road. Any eastward extension will no doubt be the subject of a further planning application.
My hon. Friend was right to refer to a number of other important matters which remain to be resolved. It is no longer proposed to provide a permanent interchange with the A34 at Drayton. When the partial interchange at Drayton was originally proposed it was thought that the first interchange further south might be at Harwell. The subsequent publication of the results of the Didcot-Abingdon-Want-age Transportation Study, with its proposal for a Didcot link road crossing the new trunk road at Milton Heights, changed the situation. Construction of an interchange at Drayton cannot be justified in addition to one at Milton Heights only about 1¼ miles to the south.
Draft orders to authorise the deletion of the Drayton interchange from the proposals will be published shortly. Access to the new trunk road from the Drayton area will be available via either Milton Heights or the A415 interchange west of Abingdon. A temporary connection is being constructed to provide access between the A34 and the first stage of the Abingdon bypass until the second stage is completed, when the temporary connection will be severed.
My hon. Friend will appreciate that a great deal of work in connection with the statutory procedures still remains to be done. Advantage will certainly be taken of every opportunity to speed up the process. For example, the Department has taken advantage of the powers made available under the Highways Act 1971 to adopt a shortened objection period for the side roads order. It proposes also to adopt a shortened period for the Drayton interchange order—I cannot pre-judge that in any way; I would not wish to discourage objections—and if it does not 410 prove to be necessary to hold a public inquiry it is likely that the construction programme can be brought forward.
In anticipation of the possible three-year gap between the completion of the first and second stages, provision has been made in the Abingdon bypass contract for suitable signing and lighting at, and at the approach to, the temporary terminal at Drayton, and I have arranged for an assessment to be made of likely traffic conditions on the A34 south of Drayton following completion of the first stage in order to determine what safety measures should be provided on the existing road. Comprehensive safety measures are being considered, and the suggestions that my hon. Friend has made will be taken into account. I can promise him that I shall write to him as soon as possible giving the details of what we proposed. We are taking the matter extremely seriously.
With regard to the suggestion that the bridge to carry the new road over the existing A34 at Drayton should be constructed as part of the first stage, there seems little advantage to be gained. The bridge could not serve any useful purpose until the second stage is completed. Whenever this bridge is built there will be some inconvenience to traffic, which will be diverted to one side or the other of the existing road, but access between Steventon and Drayton will be maintained.
My hon. Friend has raised in correspondence the question of the standards for the bridge to carry Cow Lane over the new road. This will be a combined bridle way and accommodation bridge, about 15 ft. wide, with 5 ft. high parapets. It will be adequate for farm traffic.
I appreciate the problems which this delay will bring, and I deeply regret them. I think that they are a combination of circumstances involving my Department and other authorities. I promise my hon. Friend that we shall do all the we can within the procedures, and the short procedures, to speed up construction of the second stage. If we can improve upon the completion date that I have given, we shall do so.
I also promise that in the interim period we shall do all that we can to make the A34 south of Drayton as safe as possible. 411 In that we shall take fully into account the helpful suggestions made by my hon. Friend and his constituents.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at twenty-five minutes to One o'clock.