§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Brooke.]2.31 pm
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
I am grateful for the opportunity to initiate this debate. I shall briefly sketch in the background to the proposed Aire valley trunk road. The original proposal, put forward in 1968, was to build a motorway. There followed 14 years of indecision, argument and, for the areas directly affected by the motorway proposal, blight.
In 1978, following a tumultuous public inquiry, the motorway proposal was withdrawn and the trunk road proposal substituted for it. The trunk road was designed to relieve local congestion on the A629 Keighley to Skipton trunk road. I was critical of and opposed to the motorway proposal, but I supported the less intrusive trunk road, which I think will have more beneficial local effects.
Representations by me and local people persuaded the then Minister of Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley), to produce the less intrusive trunk road proposal and he met residents of Stockbridge—in marked contrast to the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker), who is to reply to the debate.
Following the public inquiry on the trunk road proposal, the Minister announced the go-ahead in May 1982 and said in a press release in June 1983:I am anxious to maintain good progress on the Airedale scheme.I am sure that is right, but in a parliamentary reply last month to me the Government announced that the roadshould be open to traffic in April 1987."—[Official Report, 28 April 1983; Vol. 41. c. 392.]That is far too long a delay. I recognise that statutory procedures have to be followed, but I urge the Minister to proceed with the construction of the road as rapidly as possible to ensure, as was promised in an Adjournment debate in the previous Parliament, that the Keighley to Kildwick section will be consructed and opened first to relieve local traffic.
Those living alongside the existing trunk road have to put up with enormous difficulties. There is noise and vibration and dangers in crossing the road, because of the considerable volume of traffic, particularly at Utley, Steeton and Eastburn in my constituency, but also at other places alongside the existing trunk road.
The opening of the Keighley to Kildwick section of the new road will bring relief to those residents and better access for materials for the rest of the project. I suspect that most materials will be coming from the Dales quarries to the north. The opening of the top section of the road as was assured previously would also provide easier access to Airedale general hospital because, as the Minister is no doubt aware, the hospital serves Keighley, Eastburn, Steeton, and indeed a much wider area. I am sure that the volume of traffic on the existing trunk road must cause delays in obtaining access to the hospital. That could prove dangerous if not fatal. It is important that an assurance about the construction of the Keighley — Kildwick section and its opening to traffic as early as possible should be given now, rather than waiting for the whole BingleyKeighley-Kildwick section to be completed to allow access to traffic.
604 At a time when unemployment in the Keighley constituency since May 1979 has increased from 4.5 per cent. to more than 14 per cent. the construction of the road should provide many much needed jobs in the area to reduce unemployment. Will the Minister also consider using the Aire valley railway for the movement of construction materials, as the goods yard at Keighley is under-utilised? While the road is in the initial stages of construction the use of the Aire valley railway might help to reduce the congestion that construction might create. While I realise that statutory procedures must be followed, I urge the Minister to make the most rapid progress possible in the construction of the road because of the difficulties created for those people living alongside the existing trunk routes.
One area seriously affected by blight was the Stockbridge area of Keighley. I was sorry that the Minister felt unable to meet residents on a recent visit to north Yorkshire, as she must have passed within a few miles of the Stockbridge area. It is important that Ministers should listen to representations directly from people who have experienced the difficulties. I know that hon. Members try their best to represent their constituents' views but there is no substitute for direct representation.
About 100 houses were blighted in 1968 and continued to be blighted until the decision was finally made in 1982. I have been concerned with those houses that were sold off to the road construction unit, which were in some instances controlled by the local authority, and with the fact that the Government did not provide sufficient help to the tenants of those houses when they were moved or were requested to move from the area to other local authority houses, once the decision had been made to put them on the market.
I am particularly concerned in this debate with those houses that have been continuously owner-occupied ever since the plan for the motorway was first announced in 1968. The road proposals have been the focus of continuous attention and have been spotlighted nationally. Now that the decision has been made to provide the line for the trunk road, those who have been living there in their own houses since 1968 feel that they have been forgotten and ignored. The Government have offered £10,000 to the west Yorkshire metropolitan county council to assist with private street works. That followed an initiative by the Labour Government, following my representations, which will be of considerable help in revitalising the Stockbridge area. I welcome the Government's offer to the metropolitan county council.
However, there is still a serious deficiency regarding the houses that have been owner-occupied throughout the period of blight, which were built in the 1930s and, therefore, do not qualify for repair grants. Repair grants apply only to pre-1919 houses. The blight has been created by successive Governments, not by those living in the houses. It is outrageous that the Government appear to be washing their hands of the matter by refusing to consider the houses for repair grants.
I wish to quote a letter from Mrs. Greenwood, one of the residents. She says:I am writing to ask how it is we cannot have a grant for our house. At the start of enquiries I wrote to the Construction Unit at Harrogate and the reply was, not to spend any unnecessary money, so we did as they said. We have had a third of our roof done as it was raining into the front room. We are now on Social Benefit, so we have no hope.605My husband had a major operation eleven years ago and has not worked since. We are now seventy two so I suppose that's it.There is a clear sign that the road construction unit told the owner-occupiers that they should not spend too much on repairs. That made sense because they were in no position to argue the case and were not to know that the next visitor—as one writer said to me—would be the bulldozer.
Last night I visited a constituent who is another fairly typical person caught up in that situation. She decided to stay in her house because it was her home. Mrs. Manx is aged 70. The roof leaked and she had half of it repaired. It needs finishing. She applied to the local authority for a grant. When the local authority representative visited the house she was told that she needed new windows, a new bath, a new toilet, new drainpipes and rewiring. She expected to receive a grant. However, she has recently had a letter from the local authority giving the correct position. It says:Unfortunately the age of the house also excludes it from a Repairs Grant i.e. it must be built before 1919. Unless there are special concessions given to these properties they are outside the scope of the present House Renovation Grant system.I ask the Minister, although it is not her direct responsibility, to make strong representations to the Department of the Environment to make a concession for those properties. The local authority apologised for the error in suggesting that a grant was available.
Mrs. Manx has lived in her home for 32 years. Her husband, who has since died, felt that it was their home and that they should not sell it to the road construction unit. He wanted to stay in an area that he liked. As it was the Government who created the blight in the first place, that was a reasonable point of view to take. The lady is now penalised by the Government refusing to consider the possibility of applying repair grants to those houses.
I wrote to the Minister at the Department of the Environment, and on 23 March he said that to meet a delegation of representatives of the people affected by the blight would not be "fruitful". I have written to him again asking for a meeting, and I am still waiting for a reply.
I wish to conclude with extracts from letters from residents that illustrate the position. I want to emphasise the importance of repair grants for those who have, quite legitimately, delayed repairs because of the blight, and who now seek a concession from the Government for repair grants. Mr. and Mrs. Rozga wrote:After reading the questions you kindly asked on our behalf, we feel that government departments seem to think they have every right to ruin people's lives, then walk away and forget … now 15 years later repairs to properties that are essential i.e., roofs, windows, guttering, etc. can no longer be afforded at today's high prices. Unfortunately for us, Mr. Cryer, we do not fall into the category of average wage (£100 a week). Two years ago, I was rendered unfit for work owing to a stroke due to unnecessary anxiety caused by the evil administration of government departments. I am now the proud owner of what we laughingly call invalidity pension (£32.49), so we cannot be blamed for feeling there is no justice in this government. I would now like to tell you, my husband has two weeks ago been struck down with a heart attack and at this very moment is being fitted with a pacemaker. I would also like to add, my husband is a chronic diabetic and has just received his redundancy notice from work.Mrs. Boulby of 4 Hallows road wrote:I think it is unfair that the people of Stockbridge are not going to be allowed Grants, to get their houses back into condition, that they were in, 14 years ago, before the Department 606 of the Environment decided to put a motorway through our homes. I personally started to build an extension on to my home, but because of the blight it was left. Now I am a one-parent family and have no finance to finish my house off and to bring it up to standard. As I am one of the people who stayed in my own home while all these proposals of motorway planning were going ahead, I feel I should be compensated and should qualify for a house grant.Mr. David Burridge wrote:During the period of blight no one would spend money on major maintenance to their homes when the next visitor might be a bulldozer.Now after the lifting of blight, we find that major works are now becoming essential but that costs have escalated enormously during the restricted period … My own house badly needs a new roof and other major outside works to bring it back to a standard which would have existed had this blight not occurred.Those requests to remedy the consequences of 14 years of blight seem reasonable. It was logical for house owners to delay repairs or do the minimum. If there had been no blight, repairs would have been undertaken in the ordinary course of events. The Government created the blight and they should remove the poison that they have spread in areas such as Stockbridge. It is obvious that other areas will be affected and the Government should consider them.
The Government constantly express anxiety about owner-occupiers. They should prove that anxiety by giving concessions for repair grants for post-1919 houses where owner-occupiers have lived throughout the blight. Moreover, that would help by creating jobs, which must be a good thing when we face a dole queue of some 3 million people. In my constituency, the dole queues have increased from 4.5 per cent. to more than 14 per cent. and now 4,000 people chase about 80 vacancies each month. The case that I have made is reasonable and I hope that the Minister can answer it sympathetically.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mrs. Lynda Chalker)
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) for this opportunity to discuss once again the Aire valley trunk road. As he rightly acknowledged, many of his questions are for my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction, not me, but I shall do my best to answer them.
I confirm the Government's commitment to building the road. It is an important part of our road building programme in Yorkshire and Humberside. The only reason why I could not find time to meet the hon. Gentleman's constituents on the day that he mentioned was that I had a long meeting with the West Yorkshire metropolitan council and Bradford metropolitan district council about that route. Moreover, I had to be back in the House on 24 February. It was crucial to have that meeting about this section, which will be necessary to make the Aire valley trunk route work. The hon. Gentleman knows that. He also knows that I have offered to meet him and his constituents and am waiting for a date for such a meeting. There is, therefore, no lack of concern on my part for the hon. Gentleman's constituents in Stockbridge.
The Government regard the improvement of the local environment for those who live alongside the A650 and A629 trunk roads in the Aire valley as a major priority. We look to the new trunk road not only to provide relief for those who live there but to improve access to industry and communications between towns and villages that at present suffer from traffic congestion. We have long 607 recognised it as an area of great environmental sensitivity. The provision of the new road is an important factor that many industrialists take into account when considering relocation, so its completion has high priority.
We have made real progress towards the provision of a new route. The motorway proposal died a long time ago. It has taken some time to confirm the line for a substantial length of the road because of the necessary and important statutory procedures and the consultations that precede them. The 1975 public inquiry had to be abandoned following disruption but, since then, with modified highway procedures we have made good progress. I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman was anxious that we should make good progress and that there were no problems of disruption at the 1980 public inquiry. It is crucial to ensure that everyone gets a fair hearing so that proper account is taken of all views before decisions are made. That means that opponents of schemes must listen to proponents of schemes and to those who put forward alternative proposals.
The decisions made following the inspector's report mean that a line order has been made from Kildwick to Keighley and from Keighley to Bingley. A small section of the existing road will be used to bridge the gap. I shall deal with those two sections, but not the third because I shall not have enough time. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Kildwick to Keighley section will be the first to be built. We recognise the need to remove through traffic from the communities of Utley, Steeton, and Eastburn. They lie alongside the existing trunk road and suffer from severe traffic congestion, with the unfortunate consequences of noise and pollution. The new road will contribute markedly to a reduction in accidents along the existing road and in the valley generally.
I hope that the side road orders for that section of the road will be published next month. They will show how we propose to deal with the highways and private accesses that cross the trunk road. At about the same time we shall hold local exhibitions at Steeton and Cross Hills, with staff from my regional office present to answer questions. The draft compulsory purchase order will be published in a few months. The hon. Gentleman knows that I cannot say now whether we shall need a public inquiry, but our present estimate is that work will begin in the spring of 1985. That seems a long way off, but if we do not have a public inquiry work may start sooner. However, the precise date depends upon the completion of statutory procedures. The construction period is estimated to be two years.
We shall carry out advance works on the Keighley to Crossflatts section. We hope to begin construction of the section in the summer of 1986, but before construction can begin to the east of Crossflatts we must carry out advance works at Bingley. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have already published draft proposals to enable us to divert the canal and to rebuild Park road bridge to ensure that construction traffic for the main contract will pass beneath it and be kept out of the town centre. If we can use the railway economically to transport materials for the building of the road, we shall do so. We always examine that possibility, but we must get on as quickly as possible. There was great interest in an exhibition at Bingley arts centre, where it seemed that the local people wish the road to be built. The draft compulsory purchase order for the advance works will be published next month. If a public inquiry is needed — I hope not — it can be arranged before the end of the year.
608 At present, we are aiming to begin the advance works before the end of 1984, but that date and the construction of the section to the east of Crossflatts depend upon a decision on the route to the east of Bingley, but we do not intend to terminate the route at a roundabout in the town centre.
The further section is the one on which we have come to no firm conclusions because the original proposals between Bingley and Baildon would have damaged the environment unacceptably. That was the inspector's view, and our decision recognised it. We have made a decision on the line order, but we are looking into proposals to take the new road to Cottingley Bar. However, there are many wider issues. That was the subject of my meeting on the day in which, regrettably, there were not enough hours so that I could go to Stockbridge as well.
Speaking of Stockbridge and the help that we have had from West Yorkshire county council and the Bradford metropolitan district, they are working hard with officials from my Department at the moment on the connection between the length of the Airedale route so far approved and the proposed Shipley eastern bypass. We have done much useful work. I am impressed by the considerable thought that the local people, both councillors and officials, have given to the problems and how we might resolve them.
It is clear that there will be no easy solutions. The problems are complex and there are many areas of environmental sensitivity. I am conscious of the need for a decision as quickly as possible, as the hon. Gentleman said. I hope to make a statement later this year at the conclusion of the discussions between the West Yorkshire county council, the Bradford metropolitan district council and my officials. The effect of the road around Keighley has concerned me ever since I came to the Department. There is no doubt that the hon. Gentleman has pursued, as have other colleagues in the House who have links with that part of the world, the interests of the people in the Aire valley route. We know that properties in the Stockbridge area of Keighley were acquired under the blight provisions. The owners of those houses asked the Department if it could purchase them. They were affected by the earlier proposals, but they will not now be affected by the orders for the Aire valley trunk road.
The hon. Gentleman concentrated not on those houses but on the ones that the Department was not asked to buy at the time. I understand that people who were thinking that their house was going to go thought that it was not worth doing very much. That is the onus of the hon. Gentleman's case. However, there is no doubt that if a building is not purchased under blight provisions by a Government Department, there has to be a modicum of general repair to it. I have no wish to be harsh. I shall look into the cases of all the people whom the hon. Gentleman mentioned, provided that he gives me their full addresses. Some of them may be in Aireworth rather than Stockbridge. According to where they are, I do not know whether it will be possible to help, but I shall look into the matter.
Once we have removed blight from an area — that was done when the motorway proposal was dropped—there is no basis for compensation. We dealt with the blight by buying houses that the owners requested us to buy. Some of the houses of which the hon. Gentleman 609 spoke may not be in the area from which the blight was lifted. I must have further details before I can help him, but I shall seek to help.
§ Mr. Cryer
I shall be happy to provide the addresses. All the houses are in the Stockbridge area and were affected by blight. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for considering the matter. Will she assure me that she will bring to the full attention of the Department of the Environment the question of repairs grants, because this is not compensation but simply an extension of existing eligibility?
§ Mrs. Chalker
I had better not stray on to territory that I do not know as well as I know transport territory. I know from my constituency experience that there is a problem with repairs grants for houses that were built after 1919. I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying. I do not know whether anything can be done. If those houses were in the Stockbridge area, once the decision to drop the motorway was taken in 1978, it was the responsibility of those people to keep them in good repair if they could. I realise that that may sound harsh. I do not intend it to sound like that. I intend to make the House well aware that there are individual responsibilities attached to owning houses, whatever one's age, and that the charge cannot always be put on the public purse.
As I have said, I shall consider whether there is anything that we can do. Now that we are going ahead with the Aire valley route, it is important that we resolve the outstanding difficulties.
610 I am glad that the hon. Gentleman welcomed the increase that has been made to the special payment for the cost of street works. We recently informed the West Yorkshire county council that the payment will be increased to £10,000. That sum will be in addition to any frontage payments that may be made in the area. I understand from the county council that it recently included these works in its capital programme for the current year, 1983–84. I am sure that many of the residents will be pleased when the works are carried out.
I am well aware of the need to get on with the job of building the road but I know that there are ancillary problems. Although not all the problems are for me, I shall seek to intercede to ascertain whether anything can be done. I hope that the further statutory procedures can go through quickly, but that obviously depends on whether we need public inquiries at all stages. Whatever happens, it is important that we get relief for those who live along the routes in question. There is a continuing need to produce an effective engineering solution, not for the short term but for the long term, which we must reconcile with the local environment, and I shall give all speed to doing that.
The Question having been proposed after half-past Two o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
Adjourned at one minute past Three o'clock.