§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Garel-Jones.]10.11 pm
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)
I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for giving me this opportunity of raising on the Adjournment of the House the need for an underpass to be constructed at Thorpe-on-the-Hill in the event of the Lincoln bypass being constructed, which it will be.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and to her predecessor for the support that they gave to the construction of a bypass at Heckington, which has proved a great relief to the residents of the village. I also thank my hon. Friend for the urgent consideration that she is presently giving to the construction of a bypass at Leadenham. I hope that her final decision to proceed will not be long delayed.
The construction of the Lincoln bypass is, of course, of great importance to all who live in Lincoln and to those of my constituents who live in North Hykeham. The Government are to be congratulated on having authorised the construction of that important road.
I am glad to see my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle) in his place. Special thanks must go to my hon. Friend, whose dedication to the interests of his constituents in Lincoln is well known in the House and without whose advocacy the bypass might not have received such early authorisation. Speaking for myself, I always view the bypass as Carlisle's road.
Despite my pleasure at the prospect of an early start to the Lincoln bypass, one aspect that causes me great concern is the safety of those of my constituents who live at Thorpe-on-the-Hill and who will have to cross the bypass on frequent occasions.
I should like to take this opportunity to urge my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to reconsider the decision that was previously taken by her officials not to authorise the construction of an underpass. I have in mind a modest affair—an underpass under the bypass capable of use by cyclists and pedestrians. The point at which it should be constructed is at or near the part of the bypass that bisects Moor lane and Thorpe lane. There are a number of points that I hope my hon. Friend will consider.
First, the bypass will bisect Thorpe lane and Moor lane. Thorpe lane is a residential area. It contains several houses, and many of the children living in Thorpe lane attend the primary school at Thorpe-on-the-Hill. The number of pupils travelling from Thorpe lane to the primary school at Thorpe-on-the-Hill is likely to increase, because the primary school is to be both enlarged and improved. It follows that, after the construction of the bypass, a significant number of children will have to cross the road when going to and returning from school. In view of the speed at which vehicles are likely to be travelling at that point—it will, of course, be a fast road—and the age of the children involved—they will, of course, be attending the primary school—there must be a significant risk of a road accident.
Secondly, there is a reverse flow of pupils who live in Thorpe-on-the-Hill and who attend the Robert Pattinson school in North Hykeham. Many of those pupils now bicycle to and from school. They will bicycle down School lane into Moor lane and then cross the new bypass into Thorpe lane. They must therefore be at significant risk.
565 Thirdly, as my hon. Friend will know, in a letter dated 11 September 1981 the Lincolnshire Road Car Company stated its intention to site a bus stop at a point on the south side of Moor lane as near as possible to the junction with the new Lincoln bypass. Passengers alighting at that stop and wishing to cross into Thorpe lane will have to use the bypass. The Lincolnshire Road Car Company has already asked my hon. Friend's Department to consider the possibility of a suitable pedestrian crossing at that point. Clearly, the bus company thinks that its passengers will be at significant risk.
Fourthly, in the event of a road accident occurring at this junction there is bound to be considerable local pressure for the construction of an underpass and the cost of doing the work at some future date will be much greater than the present cost. Indeed, it may not be possible to do the construction work at all.
That brings me to the last issue—cost. As I have said, what I have in mind and what my constituents would like is a modest affair—an underpass capable of providing a means of transit for bicyclists and pedestrians. That has been considered by officials at the Department of Transport and they have costed it. So far as I am aware the cost that they have attached to it is about £33,000. I am well aware that that assessment was made some time ago and that it has no doubt grown. However, in view of the Government's success in containing inflation, it will certainly have grown less fast than it would have done had the Labour party been in power.
In the context of the overall cost of the Lincoln bypass, which is measured in millions, we are talking about a very small sum. If I am right in thinking, as I believe I am, that the construction of an underpass will greatly improve road safety for my constituents in Thorpe-on-the-Hill, the expenditure of £33,000 will be money extremely well spent.
As far as I am aware, this is the only significant aspect of the Lincoln relief scheme which has not been settled. I hope that my hon. Friend will consider the points that I have made and will feel able to authorise the construction of the underpass when the bypass is being built. If she does that, she will receive the permanent thanks of my constituents for whom the construction of an underpass could well be a lifesaver.
§ Mr. Kenneth Carlisle (Lincoln)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) on initiating this debate and thank him for his kind words. He understands the need for the Lincoln relief road and its contribution to life in Lincoln and the surrounding district. We have waited a long time for the relief road in Lincolnshire, and I am glad that work is in sight. I should like to thank my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for her support for this much needed road.
My hon. Friend the Member for Grantham has been assiduous in defending his constituents' interests. I believe that he was right to bring to the House the anxiety felt by those in Thorpe-on-the-Hill. I hope that their needs will be met and that there will be no delay to the start of building this much needed road.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mrs. Lynda Chalker)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) for providing me with the opportunity to tell the House about the Lincoln relief road scheme and the benefits which the new road will bring to that historic city. I realise that that was not his prime interest in initiating this debate, but I believe it is right to recognise that, as well as being a major administrative and employment centre, Lincoln is a city of national importance in terms of its historic monuments. One always thinks immediately of its marvellous cathedral, in its most impressive setting, visible from far around. It is right that the cathedral and the many listed buildings and ancient monuments nearby should benefit from the relief road.
Lincoln has long been recognised as a place of major tourist attraction, and it has thereby contributed significantly to the local economy. Its important role means inevitably that the city is also a focal point of road communication. Routes from the industrial areas of Lincolnshire, south Yorkshire and Humberside as well as the direct route from the South via the A41 and the A46 converge on the city. All through routes present a problem in either entering the city or going round its conservation area. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle) is here because he has worked hard to ensure that a Lincoln relief road was possible.
It is the mix of traffic which has often led to us to know that it is right to provide relief from the severe traffic congestion and unpleasant environmental conditions for those who live, work and shop in the city. I want to see relief for the historical areas which are close to the centre because they undoubtedly suffer from the effects of traffic, noise, fumes and dust. It is a real problem.
In Lincoln, as in similar cities, the Government's main priority is to build roads which can aid economic recovery and bring environmental benefits. The Lincoln relief road is important in both those ways. It has been under consideration since 1938 and there is absolutely no doubt about the extent of local support for such a scheme.
I shall now deal with the reasons why my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham asked for the Adjournment debate. He and I have already corresponded and spoken about the need for an underpass of the Lincoln relief road at Thorpe-on-the-Hill for pedestrians and cyclists.
The proposals by the Department of Transport for the relief road cut across an existing minor road between the settlements of Thorpe-on-the-Hill and that part of North Hykeham lying to the north-west of the A46. The vehicular access that is to be allowed on to the new road from Thorpe-on-the-Hill via Moor lane will enable many of the existing services, such as the bus services, to be retained, albeit with a diversion along the new road, but the road leading to North Hykeham—Thorpe lane—is to be stopped up from the Lincoln relief road.
My hon. Friend mentioned the question of buses stopping on the Lincoln relief road. We have already agreed to provide a bus lay-by, where the bus company has asked, to ensure that the buses stopping for the villagers' convenience is not an impediment to traffic on the Lincoln relief road when it is built.
My hon. Friend is not so much worried about the traffic from North Hykeham wishing to travel to Thorpe-on-the-Hill, because it can use a slightly longer route via the A46, 567 nor is he worried about the diversions of vehicular traffic. He is worried about the local people and the arrangements for pedestrians and cyclists to go between Thorpe lane and Moor lane when the new road is built.
My hon. Friend and I have been in correspondence about the matter since last autumn, and that was not the first time that this issue had been raised. My hon. Friend knows full well that at the public inquiry held in November 1981 into the draft line and side road orders for the scheme, the parish council and the governors of Thorpe-on-the-Hill Church of England primary school put the case for an underpass to connect those two roads linking the two settlements. The matter was discussed thoroughly at the public inquiry. The independent inspector, nominated by the Lord Chancellor, in his report on the objections that he heard at the inquiry, concluded that the number of pedestrians and cyclists using the crossing each day did not justify the provision of an underpass at an estimated cost of £33,000.
My right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for the Environment and for Transport considered the objections and the inspector's report and recommendations most carefully. They agreed with the inspector about this matter, and their decision was conveyed in a letter dated 16 July 1982 from the regional director of the Departments of the Environment and Transport's east midlands regional office. That letter drew attention to the difference of view expressed at the inquiry between the objectors and the Department of Transport's representative about the numbers of pedestrians and cyclists using the existing lane between North Hykeham and Thorpe-on-the-Hill.
The letter concluded that even the objectors' higher figures of recorded usage of the route would not justify the expenditure of the £33,000 estimated as the cost of the underpass. My right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State agreed with the inspector that there was no case for providing an underpass for use by pedestrians and cyclists travelling along Moor Lane and Thorpe Lane.
The decision was taken not in isolation but after the needs of cyclists and pedestrians had been closely examined during the preparation of the trunk road scheme. Personal safety is a very important consideration in the planning of each scheme, but in deciding what facilities it is reasonable to provide for pedestrians and cyclists in any case we are bound to have regard to the numbers of people involved and the cost of the provision. We must do that for each and every scheme in the country, not just for the Lincoln relief road, as I believe my hon. Friend understands. I wish that funds were not limited for the provision of safety underpasses, but they are limited, and I must be realistic in my approach to where the resources can be devoted. We must demonstrate that a scheme is real value for money, and we cannot escape from that responsibility.
My hon. Friend and I have exchanged letters on the subject since the decision of my right hon. Friends was announced, and I have had to say in those letters that there was no possibility of a change of mind about the underpass, as there would not be enough usage of the crossing to justify the capital expenditure. It is clear that local feelings are running high, and in response to repeated and enthusiastic representations of my hon. Friend I have re-examined the evidence presented at the public inquiry. I have listened with great interest tonight to what he said in support of the case for an underpass, and to what he has 568 told me on many other occasions since the happy day we spent at Heckington in December at the opening of one bypass in his constituency.
At the public inquiry the Department's representative presented evidence of a survey that had been carried out to establish the movement of pedestrians and cyclists along Moor lane and Thorpe lane in both directions. On three days during school term time in 1981 the highest daily movement recorded was 19 pedestrians and 40 cyclists between 7 am and 7 pm. There were no unaccompanied child pedestrians observed during the three days in question. I am glad that there were none. Young children should not be crossing roads on their own until they are of an age to do so. The figures recorded are extremely low when set against the capital cost of an underpass. The parish council considered, on the basis of its own count, that 24 pedestrians was a more realistic figure, but even so that does not significantly alter the balance of the case.
In addition to the number of people wanting to cross the new road between North Hykeham and Thorpe-on-the-Hill, an important factor is the amount of traffic that the road will be carrying and the nature of the road. At this point the relief road will have a single carriageway 24 ft wide with very good visability. The road is quite straight for a considerable distance either side of the point. This part of the relief road is not expected to be carrying more than 7,000 vehicles a day by the year 2000. That is a relatively light load when compared with all the other roads that we consider for the same reasons. I believe that pedestrians and cyclists can cross such a road with good visibility, while taking reasonable care, in complete safety. I repeat that it is an adult responsibility to see small children across the roads.
I appreciate that my hon. Friend's major concern, and rightly so, is that children will be crossing the road to get to school. Young children of play school age could be involved, but I know from the work that has been done on this and other roads that great care is taken in the majority of cases with these children to ensure that they are not allowed to travel to school alone. That is obviously very well understood by local parents in the area even before the new road has been built. I am supported by the fact that no unaccompanied child pedestrians were encountered.
I am sorry that I cannot answer my hon. Friend positively. It is always much more pleasant to be able to give an hon. Member a positive answer to his request. I have to ask myself when considering this request for an underpass the same question to which I address myself when considering all other such requests. The question is whether there is considerable room for doubt about whether an underpass in a predominately rural area, such as the one requested by my hon. Friend, is a facility which the local residents will readily use.
I regret to say that there is a further harsh reality that has not so far entered into our considerations tonight. It is that underpasses so often, unfortunately, attract anti-social behaviour. As a result, we can never guarantee that any underpass will be immune from that sort of attention. Many pedestrians will not use an underpass when it has been provided. Most of them prefer to cross the surface of the road because of the anti-social behaviour that sometimes occurs in underpasses.
I can assure my hon. Friend that our approach to his case would be different if the figures were different and there were a much greater tide of traffic at all times of the day. Every check that has been undertaken and all the 569 advice that I have received leads me to the conclusion that I cannot agree to meet his request. It is true that the Secretary of State has a continuing responsibility under the Highways Act 1980 for the provision of new roads and the safety of their users. That responsibility does not cease on the completion of the construction works. We shall keep under review the need for any improvement when the road is in use. The needs of pedestrians and cyclists are an integral and important part of our responsibilities.
I can assure my hon. Friend also that, if the traffic conditions on a stretch of road turn out to be significantly different from those expected, active steps will be taken as rapidly as required. In accordance with our normal practice, we shall be appointing the local highway authority, the Lincolnshire county council, which, incidentally, supports the view that we have taken on this issue so far, as the Department's agents for the management and maintenance of the new road. I have absolutely no doubt that it will bring to our notice any case that it sees for additional measures to be taken in the interests of the safety of all highway users.
The statutory orders confirming the line of the new road and various side road arrangements were made last December. The draft compulsory purchase order for the land needed for the construction of the new road was published in January this year and objections to that order are under consideration. A further public inquiry into the compulsory purchase proposals may be necessary. Depending on the completion of the statutory procedures, however, I am hopeful that construction work on the new road can start next year.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln asked whether including an underpass at a late stage might delay the building of the road. The true answer, as I think my hon. 570 Friend knows, is that one can never say for certain. If, in a few months time, it was decided to build an underpass, and if there were objections to land being taken for that purpose, those objections could lead to further delay. I do not imagine that the delay would be significant, but there is always that risk with further CPOs and orders to which public have the right to object.
All being well, we hope that Lincoln will have its much-needed relief road by 1986. I know that new roads always create some minor disadvantages, but I believe that this road will bring great benefit to the city of Lincoln. I am not unaware of the disappointment that I shall have caused my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham by not giving an extra aid to the people of his area, but I assure him that if there were evidence to show that it was really necessary I should have been only too happy to agree to his proposal.
We do not live in times in which money comes easily and every pound spent on a road must be justified. This applies not just to this case but to bypasses and relief roads throughout the country. Although I shall always put safety needs at the top of the agenda, I cannot genuinely justify the expenditure required when I know from experience that underpasses are so little used.
If the situation changes, we shall be advised immediately by our agent, the Lincolnshire county council, and take remedial steps. At present, however, there is no evidence to justify my going against the inspector's report and against the decision of the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Secretary of State for Transport based on the inspector's report. I regret to say that the case for an underpass is not justified.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at twenty-three minutes to Eleven o'clock.