HC Deb 19 July 1973 vol 860 cc1003-11

6.51 a.m.

Mr. Julian Ridsdale (Harwich)

I realise that the House has been sitting for a long time and I shall endeavour to be as brief as possible. Neverthless, I welcome this opportunity to raise some very important issues which affect not only my constituency, with the important ports of Harwich and Parkeston, but also the Haven ports—a complex including Felixstowe—because the amount of traffic built up and the amount of trade gained through these ports has been increasing enormously and has every prospect of continuing to increase.

My purpose in the first place arose from a meeting that I had with people concerned with roads to the ports in this area at Ipswich earlier this year, when we had a discussion on the best routes to the ports from the Midlands. In the discussion, I noticed how the route to Felixstowe and the Haven ports from the Midlands had grown piecemeal, as it were, and I challenged whether the route to Felixstowe, Harwich and Parkeston from the Midlands, through Newmarket, Bury St. Edmunds and Ipswich, was the best.

I am certain that it is in the best interests of the country that there should be a much more direct route from the Midlands than this circuitous route. I hope the Government are embarking on an inquiry to see whether there is a direct route from the Midlands to the Haven ports. What research has been done? This is one of the most important problems facing us in the Haven ports. I have pressed for this over the years, as have other hon. Members, and I hope the Minister in reply will say what research is being carried out and what action is being taken to see that we get a much more direct route to the Midlands than that which now seems to be growing piecemeal.

There has been an enormous increase in our traffic, which is building up still further and is bringing the sort of problems we find in London down to the smaller towns in Harwich and Dover-court. There is a concentration of traffic in side streets and we are naturally anxious about the problem of juggernauts. What are the Government doing to strengthen existing law procedures in terms of these juggernauts? There are certainly far too many of them, and a number of them have been travelling overweight.

What is being done to look for suitable parking areas? Now that the Government have postponed the decision on the building of a prison in the Wrabness area where the old Admiralty depot building is, is it not possible for this site to be used as a parking area for the Harwich and Parkeston complex of ports?

The Government are spending £10 million in acquiring sites for a national network of night parks to take lorries off the streets. What is being done to help the Haven ports and what plans are there for lorry parks, particularly in the Harwich and Parkeston area, to stop this concentration of traffic down the narrow lanes?

Now that improvements are being made to the A12, what is the latest information about the roads which will branch out from the A12 to the Haven ports, particularly Harwich and Parkeston? I want to be sure that we do not have large lorries trundling down country lanes and that when the bypass to Colchester is built, there will also be proper links to the Harwich and Parkeston ports as well.

As the Minister knows, stage 2 of the bypass to Harwich Navy Yard is dependent on a decision being made about the mudflats, but as this is such an obvious route for the bypass I hope that the new scheme will be completed very soon. I know that final decisions are being taken by the Crown Estate Commissioners and the Ports Council. I hope that all these decisions will be taken quickly, because it is very much in the interests of Harwich and Dovercourt to ease their traffic problems.

There is one other problem connected with the roads. This concerns some of the uneconomic bus services, some of which may shortly be withdrawn. I want to make sure that if they are withdrawn, the Minister will issue licences to private operators to help people who live in the rural areas. I hope that those operators will be able to provide services as good as, and perhaps even cheaper than, the existing services. What happened when the railways gave up the ferry some years age should act as an example. That ferry is now being run efficiently and economically in respect of Felixstowe.

All these are important problems with which the Government must deal urgently, since the build-up of traffic is enormous. We welcome what is being done. Those of us who knew the A12 some years ago will welcome the fact that it is now one of the best roads in the country, apart from one or two bypasses that have to be made at Chelmsford and Colchester. We welcome the advent of the Wix bypass, which will be opened shortly. All these are pointers to what is being done. The Government say that in general the major ports will be linked with the existing network of motorways in the mid-1970s. The Haven ports form a major port complex and I trust that the Government's plans will be expedited as much as possible. That is what must happen. We must see that the Haven ports are linked properly with the motorway complex, as the Government say, by the late 1970s.

The Government are to spend £10 million on acquiring sites for a national network of night parks to take lorries off the streets. How much of that money will go to the Harwich, Parkeston and Haven ports? The Government have issued new draft proposals for the siting and advising of lorry routes, especially to and from the ports. What effect will that have in north-east Essex?

These proposals are all satisfactory in general terms, but I want to know in detail how much is being done to help north-east Essex and the Haven ports in particular?

7.6 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Keith Speed)

With the leave of the House, I ask to speak again. I was speaking in a debate an hour and a half ago. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) on raising this important subject. It is one subject which he has been most energetic in pursuing in correspondence with myself and my right hon. Friend. I cannot give my hon. Friend an answer on the parking problem at present. I have noted what he says. I can confirm that my Department is considering the matter. It is accepted that part of the national network of lorry parks will be in the Haven ports area for reasons which my hon. Friend has indicated. I shall say a quick word about bus services. The issuing of licences is a matter for traffic commissioners, as my hon. Friend will know, and they are independent bodies. They would not take it very kindly if my right hon. Friend told them what they should or should not issue. My hon. Friend's comments on that matter will be noted.

Next, I deal with the overloading of vehicles. We passed the Heavy Commercial Vehicles (Controls and Regulations) Act last year. At that time the number of foreign vehicles coming into the country overloaded was approximately 80 per cent. It was a very high percentage. I am pleased to say that that has been reduced to less than 15 per cent. It is still too high, but it is being reduced. We are having extra enforcement officers at various ports. I am confident that the problem of overloading of foreign vehicles will soon be very much under control. Indeed, it is already under control.

Effective communication between our industrial areas and the major ports is of great importance to our prosperity and economic growth. That is particularly so now that we are members of the European Economic Community. The East Coast ports are important in the European context.

It is also important that the towns and villages should not suffer. Greater use of heavier lorries has meant relatively fewer journeys and the more economical carriage of freight, but there is no doubt that they are becoming increasingly out of scale with the towns which they pass through and we must take steps to mitigate their effect. The Government's trunk road strategy reflects those two requirements with two of its main aims being to divert long-distance traffic away from towns and villages and serving all major ports.

Only last year the Government announced plans for the further acceleration of selected schemes on some of the key routes to the ports, particularly Tilbury, Hull and the Haven ports. Within the next few years we can look forward to the completion of the M62 from Liverpool across the Pennines to Hull—already Manchester and Leeds are linked by the M62—the M3 route from London to Southampton, the M40-A34 route from the Midlands to Southampton, the M20 route from London to the Channel ports —namely, Folkestone and Dover—and the network of improvements in Essex and East Anglia in which my hon. Friend is especially interested and which he has pursued so diligently during the past few years. The completion of this work over the next few years will be of great benefit to those living along the existing routes to the ports as well as to the port traffic itself.

The port traffic can not only avoid towns into which it has no desire to intrude but, because of the reduction in congestion, can have much improved journey times. More efficient use can be made of vehicles and drivers. Increased reliability also helps in the ports themselves. The overall result is enhanced competitiveness for our exports and wider cost savings which we hope will be reflected in the home market.

There has been some pressure on the Department to build all the improved routes to ports as motorways to maximise the advantages to industry. I am convinced, however, that the costs—to the environment and in resource terms—of following such a course would outweigh the benefits to industry and that we are right to determine the standard of improvement—all-purpose, motorway, number of lanes, and so on—primarily on what the traffic requires.

I have spoken of the importance of bypasses and improved routes for both traffic and towns. Unfortunately, the one town that usually cannot be relieved of the ports traffic is the port town itself. This is not always so. The recently completed southern relief road at Felixstowe is one example where it has been possible to remove dock traffic completely from the town. But where this cannot be done the important thing is to guide traffic from the docks to the inter-urban network by suitable routes and as quickly as possible Advisory lorry routes are now being signed in a number of towns to achieve this objective. Ipswich and Harwich are two examples. The routes are advisory, but my right hon. Friend has made it clear that in the future he will consider stronger measures.

My hon. Friend mentioned what are popularly called juggernauts. Lords amendments to the Heavy Commercial Vehicles (Controls and Regulations) Bill' of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) are to be discussed on Friday. If they are accepted and the Bill is enacted, they will give my right hon. Friend and, more particularly, the new counties, considerable powers, which I hope they will use to control heavy lorries sensibly and realistically.

All this indicates the importance that we attach to transport to the ports. But I must add that in pressing ahead with our programme it is also very important to ensure that the public are properly consulted and that a full opportunity for objection is given before road improvements are undertaken. Equally, these improvements must be designed in careful relation to the countryside they pass through and, of course, be well landscaped.

Perhaps I can illustrate what we are doing and intend still to do by reference to East Anglia and to my hon. Friend's constituency of Harwich. The main ports concerned are the Haven ports of Harwich, Felixstowe and Ipswich, plus Great Yarmouth and Kings Lynn. The routes of importance to them are the A17/A47 from the north Midlands to Kings Lynn and Great Yarmouth, the A45 from the Midlands to the Haven ports, and the M11 /A11 and Al2 routes from London. Together with their connections to the national route network these roads link the East Anglia ports with the remainder of the country.

All have been or will be improved to a high standard by our present plans. The Al2 is already far advanced. The road is completed to dual-carriageway standard from Brentwood to Colchester, with the exception of the Chelmsford bypass, where the Department has recently conducted a public participation exercise on three possible lines. The Colchester northern bypass is under construction, and we expect to publish orders for the Colchester eastern and Elmstead Market bypass, which will continue the improvement well along A604 towards Harwich later in the year. Construction of the latter scheme, subject to the statutory procedures, could begin in 1975.

Further schemes on Al2 from. Colchester to beyond Ipswich should be complete by 1977, except that the Ipswich bypass itself, which we put into preparation last year, will take a little longer to complete. It involves major engineering works, including the crossing of the River Orwell and other matters.

Work is now going ahead fast on the A45 from Cambridge to Ipswich. This is not what it may appear to be—a piecemeal approach. It will be a very high-quality route.

Three schemes—the Newmarket and Bury St. Edmunds bypasses and the Stowmarket — Needham Market — Claydon bypass—are now under construction.

The remainder needed to complete this section of the route are at various stages of preparation. I hope that we shall complete them by 1977. We are at present conducting a study into what is needed to complete this route from Al to M1 and the Midlands. I hope that we shall have a report by the end of the year on which to base further action. Indeed, this report is in advance, because it was not expected originally until the spring of next year.

In addition, we are also making a study of the possibility of a route from the M1 to the M11 in the Bishop's Stortford area.

These two routes will provide the Haven ports with really good access routes and will bring relief from port traffic not only to the many historic towns along them—Cambridge, Newmarket, Bury St. Edmunds, Ipswich and Colchester—but also to towns and villages on other minor roads in the area which are at present used by traffic as short cuts or ways of avoiding bottlenecks. This often causes great misery, hardship and distress in many of these small towns and villages. I think that the main flows of through traffic will find that they cannot afford not to use our high-standard routes. With the powers in the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East and those that are already available, local authorities will be able to take steps to see that heavy lorries use the routes that are designed for them.

For the Norfolk ports—this is important in an East Anglian context—work on M11/A11 on to Norwich and the A17/A47 route from the Midlands will again greatly improve access. King's Lynn southern bypass is now under construction and my right hon. Friend, the Minister for Transport Industries announced earlier this month that he hoped to be able to authorise the start of work on stage 1 of East Dereham bypass early in the financial year 1974–75.

We have little doubt, too, that there has been far too little done and far too much neglect of East Anglian routes in the past. But resources were limited, and it is arguable that it was right to concentrate on the nucleus of a national network. Whatever may have happened in the past, the present Government have changed that. We are determined that East Anglia and the important Haven ports will have a very high priority indeed.

We have entered a new phase in the development of our road system. The emphasis is on improving links to the ports and on relieving existing routes, and relieving much of the hardship, distress and problems which so many of the towns and villages have had to put up with. I have been to see them myself, and I greatly sympathise with my hon. Friends' constituents. But it is in no small part due to their efforts in pressing this matter on the Government—and the Government can take considerable credit for responding to the problem—that we now have a programme which I believe will transform East Anglia and the Haven ports. This means that the main roads in north-east Essex and East Anglia will benefit greatly and, even more important, the constituents of my hon. Friends will get some much needed relief.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed to a Committee of the whole House.

Committee this day.