HL Deb 16 June 1958 vol 209 cc863-90

2.50 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I have it in Command from Her Majesty the Queen to signify to the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Park Lane Improvement Bill, has consented to place Her Majesty's interest so far as it is concerned on behalf of the Crown at the disposal of Parliament for the purpose of the Bill.


My Lords, as a native of Central London, I have particular pleasure in moving the Second Reading of this Bill. It will enable the London County Council to put in hand a road improvement which is most pressing and which will be the largest single road work in Central London for over fifty years. The scheme is, even so, only one of several which the London County Council are carrying out in London on a large scale, with the approval and assistance of the Government, and with the object of removing congestion from roads which were never designed for all the traffic that clutters them up to-day.

May I remind your Lordships of some of these schemes? The Elephant and Castle is being entirely reconstructed. The Notting Hill Gate widening will get rid of one of the smallest bottlenecks of traffic to and from the West—incidentally, not one of the largest bottlenecks, as it is usually illogically described. A new system of control will soon begin to operate at Hammersmith Broadway, where traffic will eventually be further helped by a new flyover on the Cromwell Road Extension leading to London Airport. St. Giles' Circus is to be partially reconstructed, and the Corporation of the City of London have also begun work on their scheme for Route 11 in the City.

More ambitious than all of the other London schemes is that for which this Bill provides. Hyde Park Corner is the busiest junction in the Kingdom, possibly in the world. In 1956, 91,000 vehicles passed—or lurched—through it in twelve hours. At times it becomes stagnant with traffic. Not only that, it is often a test of a driver's patience and ingenuity to get through the junction at all, and roads ought not to make such demands upon those who use them. At Marble Arch. which is also very congested, 65,000 vehicles were counted in the same period, and Park Lane itself is often solid with the traffic—it certainly was twenty-five minutes ago.

The London County Council's scheme is designed to remove this congestion. Its leading features are to be found in the Explanatory Memorandum prefixed to the Bill and do not, I think, need re-stating by me. It would really be simpler to adjourn this debate and hold it round the models in the Royal Gallery, but I understand that there are slight constitutional difficulties in the way of doing so. Incidentally, I should be vastly obliged if the noble Lord who has removed from the models one bus, two plane trees and the south side of Curzon Street would kindly put them back, because the models are at present under my charge.

The aim of the scheme is to provide very much larger roundabouts at the Hyde Park Corner and Marble Arch junctions, so as to give traffic more room for manœuvre, to drain off the Piccadilly-Knightsbridge traffic from Hyde Park Corner by building an underpass beneath it, and to convert Park Lane and the East Carriage Drive in Hyde Park into complementary one-way roads. Except for controlling access to and from Mayfair, traffic lights will be abolished throughout. Although this is an elaborate and extensive scheme, it would normally have been possible for the London County Council to carry it out under their own general powers, but the scheme has to incorporate small portions of Hyde Park and the Green Park. These can only be given up by the Crown under the authority of Parliament. Hence this Bill.

My Lords, may I dwell on this point? There is not one of us who does not prize the Royal Parks. None more so than I, who have lived half-way between Hyde Park and Regent's Park for almost all my life. I can assure your Lordships that, had it been possible to devise an effective solution to the traffic problem without having to encroach on the parks, the Government would never have agreed to this trespass. As it is, your Lordships will have seen from the models, and from the outline plans which I have had prepared, how little, in fact, of the parks is to be taken.

Before it was decided to approve the present scheme a Working Party was set up by my right honourable friend the former Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation, to investigate whether it was at all possible to produce a scheme which would leave the parks untouched. The London County Council, the Ministry of Works, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, the Road Research Laboratory, the Metropolitan Police and others were all concerned in this study. The conclusion reached was that no scheme could reconcile the demands of traffic, amenity and finance half as well as the scheme now embodied in the Bill. All the rest were open to objections of one sort or another, and there was none which would not have meant an alteration to some part of the landscape. The next best, for instance, would have required the removal of the Decimus Burton Screen at Hyde Park Corner, and in any case it would have been a less effective solution to the traffic problem.

The net loss of grassed or planted areas in the two parks will, in fact, be no greater than four or five acres. We all wish that it could have been none. This scheme will also, inevitably and unhappily, involve the loss of a number of trees. No one can regard this prospect, too, as anything but a most regrettable sacrifice. But, if we are going to take the congestion of the roads in this part of London as seriously as it deserves, we have to decide between preserving the free flow of traffic at the expense of some trees or preserving those trees at the expense of the flow of traffic. The Government have decided, after great deliberation, that there is no escape from this sad result. As my noble friend Lord Perth told your Lordships on Wednesday last, about sixty forest trees will be lost to the two parks, and some thirty-five smaller trees. This is certainly a small number, in comparison with the 3,100 or so trees in the whole of Hyde Park and the Green Park, but it never can be small enough. It may be possible to reduce the number even further, and I can give your Lordships an assurance that not one more tree will be cut down than is absolutely necessary.

A great deal of thought has been given by the London County Council to the landscape treatment of the new layout, and they have consulted the Royal Fine Art Commission. I am in duty bound to bring to your notice that the Commission oppose the scheme in principle, on the grounds that any encroachment on the Royal Parks ought to be resisted. Since, however, a decision in favour of the scheme has been taken, the Commission have most helpfully commented on certain points of landscape design, and modifications have been made, or are being considered, in the London County Council's plans.

I should like to mention, if I may, one piece of advice which has been particularly valuable. The Commission suggested that the surface of the new roundabout at Hyde Park Corner should form a logical link with the character of the parks on either side. Your Lordships will have seen from the model that the dominant feature will be a grassed expanse suitably planted with trees. I think your Lordships will agree that this will be a great improvement on the irregular and bleak concrete islands there at present. The processional route will, of course, be preserved, both here and at Marble Arch.

The new islands at Marble Arch call for a slightly different treatment, since they will form what the planners call a terminal feature, but once again a grass expanse will predominate. Both these places, as well as the central reservation between the Park Lane carriageways will naturally remain open for the recreation of the public. It will be necessary to move one or two of the smaller memorials and statues, including Byron and the Cavalry and Machine Gun memorials, but, wherever possible, they will be re-sited in the vicinity. The Decimus Burton Screen will be left untouched; pedestrians will still be able to go through it, but it will be closed to vehicles. The Wellington Arch and the Wellington Memorial will stay as they are.

It would clearly be unsatisfactory to leave some of the lodges at the various gates into Hyde Park along Park Lane isolated between two carriageways of fast traffic. Two of the lodges (those at Cumberland Gate and Grosvenor Gate) are of great historical interest, and they will be moved a short distance and preserved inside the new boundary of the park, which will in future run along the western side of what is now the East Carriage Drive. The lodges at Stanhope [...]ate, which are of much less importance historically, will be removed altogether.

Two features of the new layout are of particular interest. The first is the underpass between Piccadilly and Knightsbridge. We are sometimes asked why Her Majesty's Government do not do more to encourage the building of underpasses in London, when they have been built with such success on the Continent, notably in Brussels. The answer is that the reason more underpasses are not built in London is not for want of encouragement, but for lack of opportunity. Underpasses need streets with enough space to accommodate their approaches, and the places in London where the carriageways can be made wide enough without tremendous expense are very seldom the places where traffic would benefit from them. For example, it would be prohibitive to build either a north-to-south or an east-to-west underpass at Marble Arch. At Hyde Park Corner, however, we have the opportunity, as well as the best of reasons, for putting some of the traffic underground, and the L.C.C. have wisely included an underpass in the scheme.

There has been a good deal of comment on what the capacity of the underpass should be. When the Bill was first published it provided for an underpass with one traffic lane in each direction. That would probably have been sufficient for ten to fifteen years at least. But my right honourable friend and the London County Council ultimately decided that it was better not to under-insure but to make certain now that there would be sufficient reserve capacity for as far ahead as anyone cared, or dared, to look. The Bill was therefore amended to provide for two lanes, each in a single tunnel, in each direction.

The effect of the new layout will be to provide Hyde Park Corner with a substantial reserve capacity, taking the surface roads and the underpass together, at the peak hours. The reserve capacity at Marble Arch will also be greater. Should it, however, eventually prove necessary, it will be possible to increase the reserve capacity here at Marble Arch by restoring traffic light control at Great Cumberland Place.

The other feature I want to mention is the arrangements for pedestrians. Obviously, traffic flows more freely, and pedestrians cross roads more safely, if the twain shall never meet. What is proposed here is to fence off the islands at Hyde Park Corner and Marble Arch, and along the central reservation in Park Lane, and to provide twelve subways at suitable points to let people get from one side to the other in safety. Several of these subways will give access to Hyde Park, and they will also allow people to get on to the islands and to most of the central reservation in comfort. In nearly every case the subways will be served by ramps. This should be of great comfort to members of the "Pram Pushers' Union," whose life on a hot Sunday round Marble Arch is liable to be nasty, brutish and short—and I speak from painful personal experience.

My Lords, the Bill which provides for these matters does not, I think, require much comment from me. The leading provisions are annotated in the Explanatory Memorandum. It is really a Bill to enable the London County Council to carry out the works listed in Clause 1, which are the main works, and those in Clause 3, which are subsidiary. Clause 4 permits the London County Council, with the consent of the Minister of Works, to enter upon and use such land in the parks as they may require for the works. The limits within which the London County Council are to work are shown on the plans deposited with the Bill. Your Lordships will notice that the power given in Clause 4 is only a right of entry to do certain things. This reflects a proposal of the Crown Estate Commissioners that, although land will be lost to the parks, it shall not be lost to the Crown—in other words, the freehold title of the Sovereign to the land will not be affected. This arrangement was graciously approved by Her Majesty in giving her consent to the Bill.

If your Lordships give the Bill a Second Reading, the Government expect to move Amendments at a later stage to provide for the protection of the British Transport Commission and certain statutory undertakers and on one or two minor matters. My Lords, I ask you to give this Bill a Second Reading and a quick passage through its remaining stages, so that we can now all get on with the job. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.

Moved, that the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Mancroft.)

3.5 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, with his usual clarity and good humour has presented this Bill to the House so clearly that I do not think any of us will be under any misapprehension as to what is going to happen. The noble Lord is quite right when he says that this matter has had a great deal of thought. If my memory serves me correctly, it was in December of last year that the Second Reading of this Bill took place in another place, and it has been substantially amended there, to its great benefit, in Standing Committee. Therefore, many of the criticisms levelled in another place cannot, I think, be levelled in your Lordships' House.

On behalf of noble Lords on this side of the House, I welcome this Bill, although I must say, in fairness, that one or two of my colleagues have some reservations, as I have myself. However, in total, I would congratulate the Government. I think this is a bold and imaginative scheme, and I shall watch with the greatest interest the outcome of this experiment of an underpass. I should have been bitterly opposed to the scheme in its original form, providing for only a dual carriageway; but now that it is to have two tunnels, with two carriageways each, I think it may be adequate for the future.

The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft has given us statistics. The trouble with our road policy for this last fifty years has been that we have never had enough wisdom to look far enough ahead. We have wasted millions and millions of pounds through making our roads too narrow and then widening them foot by foot, with the advent of different Chief Engineers at the Ministry of Transport. This Bill does give us a chance of saying that, once this is done, then at least for twenty-five years we shall not have much to grumble at. One of the chief criticisms I have heard is that in having such a bold scheme as this, at, as I think the noble Lord said, and as is common knowledge, the worst traffic spot in this country, if it cures this great bottleneck at Hyde Park Corner it will only create another down at Knightsbridge or somewhere else. But that is true all over this country; and if we wait until we can widen every length of road right over the country, we shall never get any improvements in our roads. I know of no place where a bold widening of the road has not meant a bottleneck; and I know of hundreds of places in this country where four carriageways merge with abruptness into two. But is that any good reason why we should never have a four-carriageway road, or never start one?

So, my Lords, I welcome this Bill, although I have one or two reservations on which I should like the noble Lord to give me an answer. From my observations and studies of the question of London traffic—and I spent some time in the Ministry of Transport—I can say that this is only one small part of the problem. Do not let it be thought that, with all the schemes the noble Lord has mentioned—those at Kingsway, the Elephant and Castle and so on—we are going to make a very great imprint on the total problem. This is a contribution. The one thing to which I would ask the Government to give serious consideration is the resuscitation of the idea—which we shall have to do at some time—of a roadway right round London, with limited access, to see whether we cannot drain off from our thickly trafficked spots the through-traffic which at present goes through London because it cannot find its way round.

The noble Lord, I think, has given some figures of the commercial vehicle traffic that runs through Hyde Park Corner. There must be some way of creaming off that traffic. I am hoping that with the experiment, and with the lessons we shall learn we shall have the imagination to go on building underpasses, which in my view are far better than flyovers, especially in urban areas; and flyovers, in my view, are far better than roundabouts. I think the roundabout has been proved to be a traffic congestor and not an easement, unless it is large enough. I remember that in the last unfortunate strike—I think it was a railway strike—I saw some pictures taken from a helicopter of the roads just outside London, and the greatest congestion was at the roundabouts, because of the degree of weaving across the line of traffic that has to take place.

My Lords, I am not going to criticise the proposals in this Bill as they stand. There are one or two questions I want to ask the noble Lord, and I want to make one or two suggestions. I want to ask him: is it intended that parking of vehicles shall be prohibited in the East and West Carriage Drives? If we want four traffic lines, if it is necessary to have that width of road, if it is necessary to encroach upon the parks, then let us encroach upon them to move the traffic and not to garage it.

The next point I want to make is that I view with concern and sharp criticism the decision, if it is a decision, of the London Transport Executive not to use the underpass for buses. I am tempted, in all good will, to ask who is the dictator of London traffic—the Minister of Transport, the L.C.C., which is the highway authority, the Westminster City Council or the London Transport Executive? If Sir John Eliot is capable of learning any lesson at all, he is capable of learning the lesson of the last three or four weeks, that it is not traffic that has congested London; it is the buses. I think that the buses should be made to conform to a plan of traffic and should not be a law unto themselves. I know that I shall be subjected to criticism of neglect of the pedestrians when I say that we should have bus stops further away from Hyde Park, but in my view it means only re-routing the bus services.

When you are trying to solve a huge problem like the traffic problem in London you cannot expect to have a bus stop right outside your front door, nor a Tube station. I should have thought it would be a matter of grave concern and action by the Minister to see that the traffic did conform to a pattern which will cause the least possible congestion. What is the good of spending a sum which I understand will be between £5½ million and £6 million—that is the cost to date: Heaven knows what it will be before the scheme is finished!—and then having almost as much congestion with omnibus traffic? I go from your Lordships' House to Paddington station, and if I want to go there during the rush hour I have to allow myself, in a taxicab. twenty-five minutes, in order to be certain of catching my train. Since the bus strike I have done it in seven minutes and eight minutes, and all that time is made up around Hyde Park Corner.

The next question I want to ask the noble Lord concerns pedestrian tunnels. Again I know that I am raising a controversial point, but I think it better to raise it, so that it can be discussed. I think it is quite a correct thing to have these tunnels. They are to be placed at points that will allow pedestrians to cross two carriageways in Park Lane and the East Carriage Drive. Do the Government not think that the time has arrived when they should try an experiment in control of pedestrians and prohibit the crossing of these eight traffic lines—that is what it means—by methods other than going through the subways? I would prohibit the crossing of these roads except by these subways. The noble Lord says they are going to put up railings. What are they going to be like? Will they be like those hideous things that surround Trafalgar Square and the hideous things around Parliament Square? I hope that some of the noble Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, who is intensely interested in the question of amenities, would not consider that a lot of galvanised iron tubing right the way down these carriageways will add to the amenities.

Now I should like to come to this question of amenities. I have followed what the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, has said in the Question and Answer, and I shall listen with the greatest respect, as I always do, to what he has to say this afternoon. I know that some of my own colleagues would fight this Bill on the principle of encroachment on the Royal Parks. I myself do not like it; but you have to pay a price for the traffic in London; you have got to pay a price to have the traffic of London move a bit more quickly. The congestion costs industry, and therefore the country, millions and millions of pounds. While nostalgia may prompt opposition to encroachment on the Royal Parks, I think perhaps that carrying this sense of antiquity to the extreme is not always wise—because, after all, anything that is old is not of necessity beautiful, as some of us have borne in upon us every day of the week. I am quite prepared to leave it to the L.C.C. and the Ministry—not necessarily the Royal Fine Art Commission, because to me they are not the safeguard of beauty—to make that layout, as the noble Lord has said, a thing of real beauty. Woodland naturalness is only in some cases an excuse for untidiness. I can see that if the work is done properly the amenities will not suffer. I remember the outcry against the Pitlochry Hydro-Electric Scheme. If ever there was any man-made thing that added to the beauty of Pitlochry it was the Pitlochry Hydro-Electric Scheme after it had been finished.

That brings me to my next point. I want the noble Lord to tell me, if he will, what is the timetable of construction of this scheme. If we are going to tackle the road problem of this country, whether it is by the Hyde Park Scheme or any other, we have got to knock some sense into the administrative delays that have abounded with every scheme ever put forward. There was another road scheme that interested your Lordships so much that you devoted a whole afternoon's debate to it. That was the ring road around Oxford. We had Government assurance after Government assurance that it was priority No. 1 and that they would move it forward with the utmost rapidity. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, himself, just about a year ago, gave your Lordships an assurance that it would be started this year. All the local authorities were asked to expedite their arrangements, to get all their plans ready for going out to contract; and those plans have lain on the Minister's desk since January. It is now June, and the Oxford Western By-pass will not be started this year.

Why this circumlocution? Every month that the delay goes on the cost goes up by about a quarter of a million pounds, until it gets to the stage when the Treasury will say, "We are sorry, but we cannot go on with the scheme. It is now going to cost too much." The real reason why it has cost too much is the dilatoriness and circumlocution that goes on between the Ministry of Transport and the local officials, and the shuffling of papers and this, that and the other. I am not going to ask the noble Lord to answer that point, but I bring it up this afternoon because, before the Recess, I am going to put down on the Order Paper a Question for him to answer in detail; so I warn him of that now.

What I want to ask the noble Lord now is: if Brussels can build in eighteen months a three-tiered underpass with an overhead road a mile long costing £14 million, why does it take us four years to accomplish a smaller scheme? If noble Lords want to know the reason why the cost for all these road projects is so high, I can tell you that it is because of the interminable officialdom and red tape which surrounds them. If you gave a contractor the job of getting on with the Hyde Park Scheme and paid him, not for how long it took but, if I may use the phrase, for how long it did not take, you would get it done much more quickly and cheaply. I ask the noble Lord this question: what assurance can he give the House that Londoners are not going to look for four years upon a site at Hyde Park Corner such as can be seen at the junction between the Great West Road and the Chiswick High Road? Any of your Lordships may go down and see the works that are going on there in regard to a relatively small flyover. The battlefields of France never looked worse; and it goes on year after year. Many of your Lordships have seen that scene of horror. Can your Lordships imagine that staring your Lordships in the face at Hyde Park Corner for four years? I ask the noble Lord: what is he doing to see that we do not suffer that fate?

My Lords, perhaps I may ask one last question—this is the only real question I have to ask on the Bill. I now propose to give the noble Lord an opportunity to throw back in my face a lot of what I have said, because I want to ask him why, in Clause 7 (2), there is put into the Bill some arbitrary language which I cannot quite understand. Perhaps he will save me the trouble of putting down an Amendment on the Committee stage by explaining it to me now. Recently we have heard a lot about the wickedness of landlords, but this Bill gives the L.C.C. the right—I use my language in general terms—within fourteen days of the passing of the Bill to evict all the tenants from all the property that has to be pulled down. My information is that there are forty-two of them, some of them small shopkeepers. If I could use a colloquialism, I should have thought that fourteen days is "a bit quick". I should have thought that sixty days' notice to quit would be more appropriate.

The wording of the subsection is: At any time after serving a notice to treat in respect of any land an interest in which may be acquired compulsorily under the said section six, but not less than fourteen days after giving the owner and occupier thereof notice of their intention to exercise the powers of this subsection, the Council may enter on and take possession of the land. … Perhaps we could be a little more generous. After all, if this is going to take four years I do not suppose that all the bundles of red-taped documents will be tied up for quite a considerable time; so another, say, sixty days instead of fourteen days might be more reasonable in order that they may find alternative accommodation. The L.C.C. cannot treat until this Bill becomes law, and within fourteen days they can evict the tenants. That is the only point of detail I have to raise on the Bill, and if the noble Lord can answer me now it may avoid the necessity of my putting down an Amendment on the Committee stage. For myself—I think I can say that I speak on behalf of the majority of my colleagues on this side of the House—as this Bill is politically not controversial, we wish it well. I wish that we could see the completion of the scheme within a reasonable length of time.

3.27 p.m.


My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord who has just sat down, to this extent: this matter is not politically controversial as between the different Parties. But that does not mean that it is not intensely controversial. I hope, if the House will bear with me, to give reasons, which some noble Lords may find convincing, why this Bill should not receive a Second Reading to-day. I am grateful to my noble friend who introduced this Bill for having provided us with the model which he promised in answer to the Questions which I put last week. I am also grateful to him for having arranged for civil servants from the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Works to show me and some other noble Lords who were particularly interested round the principal areas concerned, in order to explain the nature of the proposals on the spot.

I think the most remarkable feature of the debate so far has been the assumption that, if we sanctioned this scheme, it would do a lot of good. I hope in the course of my remarks to disabuse your Lordships of that illusion. I oppose the Bill and propose to group the grounds which I wish noble Lords to bear in mind under three heads—namely, the injury which the scheme will do to the Royal Parks; the wrong diagnosis of need on which the Bill is based; and, lastly, but by no means least, the mistaken belief that the solution proposed will work.

May I start with the injury to the Royal Parks? I would remind the House that, as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport explained on the Second Reading in another place, it is what is done in the Royal Parks that accounts for the fact that this Bill is being brought before Parliament at all. There are, as has been said, lovers of the Royal Parks in all quarters of the House. I myself am a great lover of these Parks, but I am not going to suggest for one moment that other noble Lords, wherever they sit, have not the same affection for them. I would, however, mention two facts which I think the House will wish to bear in mind in considering what is being done to the Royal Parks. At the time of the Second Reading debate in another place, there was at any rate some doubt about the precise attitude of the Royal Fine Art Commission. That doubt has been set at rest by a statement which the Commission published on December 19 of last year, after the Second Reading of the Bill in another place. May I read the second paragraph of that statement? From its inception in 1924, the Commission has attached the greatest importance to the preservation of the Royal Parks and has on several occasions resisted suggested encroachments on the perimeter. The present proposals, based on traffic considerations, constitute the largest encroachment ever suggested. The Royal Parks are a unique feature of London and one of its main attractions both for those who live there and for visitors from other parts of the country and from abroad. Their value has increased enormously as the built-up areas of the metropolis have extended beyond them, and hitherto no sacrifice of immediate practical convenience has been considered too great to preserve them intact. There is a grave risk that if an encroachment of this kind is once permitted, further demands will follow from time to time, which, if accepted, would whittle away the splendid series of open spaces. That is the view of the Royal Fine Art Commission, a body to whom this House sometimes pays some attention.

The other matter which I would bring to your Lordships' attention is the remarkable speech of my right honourable friend Mr. Nigel Birch, the former Minister of Works, in another place on April 30 of this year. He expressed the hope—which repeat—that this Bill will receive the most careful examination by this House. He condemned the Bill utterly, and the importance of his speech was recognised not merely on his own side of the House, for a tribute was at once paid to it by Mr. Anthony Greenwood, on behalf of Her Majesty's Opposition. There are two things to remember about the former Minister's speech. In the first place, I am convinced that this scheme would never even have been embodied in a Bill had my right honourable friend remained the Minister of Works. The second matter is that my right honourable friend had available to him, at the time he was a Minister, memoranda and information which have not been made available to this House.

On the question of injury to amenities, Mr. Birch mentioned that fifty of the finest and largest plane trees would be felled at the outset. I have found, in discussion with various noble Lords, that the greatest of all the injuries that this scheme is going to do is not known to them at all: it is a new injury, I think, introduced since the time when the Bill received a Second Reading in another place. That injury is the appalling destruction of plane trees on the north side of Green Park, next to Piccadilly, rendered necessary. I believe, by the widening of the original proposal for the underpass.

My Lords, I wonder whether the House has considered why it is that these Royal Parks—one of the glories of London, and, indeed, of our country—have survived for so long. It is not because encroachments have never before been proposed: it is because the Ministers responsible have always thought that the Royal. Parks were something that should be fought for at almost any cost. Does anybody suppose that, if these encroachments are permitted, that will be the end of the story? These are not the only threats to the Royal Parks, even at this moment. I could mention other threats, if the Minister of Works is prepared to yield, made to different Parks by the Minister of Transport and by others. Does anybody suppose, if this scheme is adopted and, as I hope to show, will not work in its present form, that then, if it is proved to be necessary to have great car parks in the neighbourhood, there will not be an irresistible demand for great car parks in or under Hyde Park, whatever may be the sacrifice of trees? There are some who think it monstrous that there is not a great helicopter station in London. Are your Lordships quite certain that there will be no demands for such a station in the Royal Parks? Once the Ministers concerned think that the Royal Parks are expendable, there will not be an early limitation of the uses for which it will be suggested that they, or bits of them, might be expended.

I venture to draw attention, because I find it so enlightening, to what was said in another place on the reason why there are to be no underpasses at Marble Arch. Since they were remarks made in the present Session, I must not quote them but must paraphrase them. I will paraphrase them fairly closely. The reason why there is to be no underpass at Marble Arch is that an underpass there would be very costly and would involve heavy demolition in the Edgware Road. I am not joking—that was the reason given. What will be thought by posterity of a Parliament that thought the expense of demolition in the Edgware Road so obviously more important than the destruction of the amenities of Green Park?

The cost in amenity is great. In both Houses it has been suggested that this is the biggest single improvement since the creation of Kingsway in 1905. It is true that this is the largest scheme; but, of course, to create Kingsway in 1905 it was not necessary to abolish public open spaces, and it was not necessary to ruin great amenities. The cost in amenity of the present scheme is very great. The cost in money is enough to provide eighteen miles of a new motorway. That gives the House some idea of the cost involved. But, my Lords, let me say to Her Majesty's Government at once that I am one of those who agree in wanting better roads and facilities for traffic. I admire the energy which my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport is showing in so many directions. But I believe that here he is making, or has made, a mistake that would be obvious to all Members of this House, or a great many of them, if they would spend a day in doing as I have done, reading through all the documents in the case.

I pass from the destruction of amenity to the diagnosis which I say is at fault. It has been said quite truly that this is the busiest junction in the whole country. The figure of the 1956 police census has been mentioned—91,000 vehicles in a twelve-hour day. It certainly is the busiest junction, if we judge by the volume of traffic; but, as every experienced motorist in London knows, it is nothing like the worst junction. It is not one of those places where one is likely to be badly held up and certainly does not compare with a dozen other examples which will occur to any motorist who uses his car in London.

In regard to delay, not only does it not compare in seriousness with a great many other traffic interruptions with some of which—I want to be entirely fair to Her Majesty's Government—the present Minister is proposing to deal, though he does not propose to deal with all, but it is incomparably less bad than some of the worst examples outside London. I speak on the morrow of a great traffic jam. I wonder what will be the thoughts of motorists who last night took two hours to negotiate two miles at Staines when they learn that it is proposed to spend more than £5;¼ million on a scheme at Hyde Park Corner, not to remedy a serious existing obstruction comparable with many others but to provide a scheme of traffic which, I believe, the greatest traffic engineers in the world have pronounced to be unworkable.

That brings me to the third objection to this Bill. Even if Hyde Park Corner constituted the main problem and deserved the first priority, even if it were right to sacrifice parts of the Royal Parks for an adequate and permanent solution of the traffic problem at this point, the fact remains, in my submission, that the scheme authorised by this Bill will not work. I shall give my views as to why it will not work though I know noble Lords will agree with me that, in order to ascertain whether or not it will work, it is not my views that they particularly want to hear but the views of the Road Research Laboratory. They, after all, are the experts. The Road Research Laboratory, who have conducted experiments on this matter, have advised Her Majesty's Government—and we are not even given the papers or told what their reports were. In fact, that information was refused when I asked for it last week.

In the interval between my Question last week and to-day I have done my best to consult some of the experts. I know that the points I now raise will not take by surprise my noble friend the Minister in charge of the Bill, because I gave him notice of these points in my supplementary questions last week. I referred to a note that had appeared in the Observer giving weighty criticisms of this scheme which are so far unanswered. One of those with whom I have spoken over the week-end was permitted by the Minister concerned to see some of the reports of the Road Research Laboratory; and some of the points that appeared in their report on the experiments they had conducted were made known by the gentleman I have mentioned to Dr. Feuchtinger of Ulm, who I believe is perhaps the most distinguished road engineer now alive. In any event, he is visiting this country this month, to address a research group of another place interested in these matters, and I believe he will be very well known not only to Her Majesty's Government but to those of my noble friends who are expert on this matter of roads. He is officially consulted by many other Governments outside his own country and is at present the adviser on very important works in the Netherlands and elsewhere.

What astonishes me is that, though we in this House are so often accustomed to pay tribute to science and to talk of the need for consulting technicians and technologists, too often great schemes are proposed in which we absolutely fail to act in accordance with those principles. I have often been most impressed, when travelling in the United States of America and on the Continent, by the fact that in certain respects they are much more advanced than we are here in road improvements. I agree with some of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, on that matter. He is entirely right in saying that a roundabout itself can be the scene of the greatest congestion and of traffic being brought to a standstill. After all, I would remind noble Lords that we already have a roundabout at Hyde Park Corner. Nor are underpasses always the solution. In fact, neither provides a universal solution.

I do not want to trouble the House with many examples of the jargon used by these traffic experts, but I must mention two conceptions that are of some importance. The first is the great difference between the possible or maximum capacity of a roundabout and the practical working capacity of that same roundabout. There are a great many traffic problems that cannot be solved at all by the use of roundabouts. The limitation on what is possible in the way of "weaving" depends directly on the volume of traffic. I believe that the view held in the United States of America, where they have a great deal of experience of these matters, is that it is impossible at a roundabout to have traffic "weaving" without signals if the vehicles are passing at a rate greater than 1,500 vehicles to the hour. At this junction, even with the use of the enlarged underpass, the volume of traffic will be many times that amount. The best calculation that I can make, on the figures last published by the Ministry of Transport, is that this underpass at Hyde Park Corner for the east—west traffic may take 14 per cent. of the volume of traffic.

London Transport have already expressed their determination not to use it for the buses. I am not going to comment on the little dispute, or the great dispute, between the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and London Transport; but, of course, one of the grounds of the objection of London Transport is the amount of interchange from one bus to another that takes place at this point. I am not necessarily defending their decision, but I am giving their ground. But if I are in the least right on the volume of traffic that will be taken by the underpasses—and it is these underpasses which cause the greatest injury to amenity—then that will still leave a volume of traffic, even if traffic does not increase, attempting to "weave" at this series of roundabouts which is greater than can be accommodated, according to the views of the most distinguished traffic engineers in the world.

I notice with great interest that my noble friend, in introducing this Bill, said that the whole of this scheme—I think he said with the exception of entry from Mayfair—was going to be controlled without traffic lights. I am certain that what he told the House he believed to be a fact, but I venture to make the confident prophecy that he is wrong. If any noble Lord has gained the idea from the model that, when this scheme has been adopted, traffic is going to move continuously and smoothly round these various roundabouts, without traffic lights, he is deceiving himself. Lights will certainly have to be used to introduce what is called (in the horrible jargon of the experts) "directional channelisation". I do not defend the jargon, but it means that you control the traffic, not by a roundabout, but by a system enabling the traffic to move rapidly in the direction in which it wishes to go. Perhaps I might quote the expert conclusion accepted in the United States, which is this: … It is possible for a signal-controlled intersection having proper design of channelisation to carry much more traffic than a traffic circle "— that is what they call a roundabout. The conclusion continues: Indeed, properly combining traffic signals and channelisation may possibly provide the same service as a grade separation "— that is, having a separation of levels.

My Lords, I say that, should this House pass this Bill, it will be demonstrated very quickly that the traffic cannot flow unless traffic signals, by lights, are adopted. My noble friend may then say, on the supposition that I am right about that, "If that is found to be the case, then we can introduce traffic lights." But that is not really an answer, for this very simple reason. If the need for lights were recognised generally at the outset, then the layout for traffic at this point would be quite different from the layout proposed under this Bill; and it might well be one that would be much less destructive of amenities.

The Minister said in another place that a perfectly sound technical case could be made for saying that the underpass should not be built at all. Nevertheless, since he said that, he has doubled the size of the underpass, and I am not necessarily opposing that, if there is to be an underpass at all. But I beg this House not to pass this Second Reading to-day, but to insist that an opportunity shall be given of hearing expert views on the matter and of reading the reports the Traffic Research Laboratory have made to Her Majesty's Government, instead of blindly sanctioning this unique destruction of the Royal Parks.

My Lords, I believe that this Bill, if carried, will constitute a disastrous precedent by encroaching on the Royal Parks; it will effect an immediate injury to amenity, and it will waste a vast sum of money and result in a wholly inadequate improvement in the flow of traffic. Of course, I know how many people will find it difficult to believe that what I say is true, for this reason: that anything that has even the label of doing something for traffic is accepted as desirable without any consideration of what the effect will, in truth, be. My Lords, I do not know how many noble Lords remember some of the errors in formal logic which used to be taught to those who studied the logic of Aristotle and other systems, but may I give an example of a fault in logic that is to-day very prevalent? From the true premise that some traffic improvements injure amenity, very many people draw the quite illogical conclusion that anything that injures amenity must benefit traffic. My Lords, I would assure the House that that is undoubtedly an error.

I know that angry young men sometimes command attention; I know that the position of an angry old man is generally considered to be ridiculous; and I am aware, therefore, that my plea for London—the city that I love, which I would do almost anything in order to preserve—may strike some people as old-fashioned and blind. But I assure them that, if they will study this matter, they will probably come to three conclusions: first, that the price we are asked to pay for this scheme is very great indeed; secondly, that this scheme is prompted by a wrong diagnosis of the problem; and, thirdly, that when we have paid the price we shall not get the advantage which alone might make it worth while.

3.57 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord has spoken with deep sincerity, and in some of what he says I am sure he has the sympathy of the whole House. None of us would wish callously and in cold blood to encroach on open space in London, where it is so much needed, still less on the Royal Parks; and I personally have great sympathy with the point he put forward that, if one permits this, one might be able hereafter to make an equally good case for something else. I will ask him to look at this matter from the point of view of the citizen of London. Here we have a problem. I do not know whether he would suggest, by comparing the traffic congestion at Staines with that at Hyde Park Corner, that there is not a problem at Hyde Park Corner. Those who use Hyde Park Corner as frequently as I do will have no doubt whatever that it has one of the most serious traffic blocks in London, and, furthermore, that it is one of the most dangerous points. It is the business of those who are responsible for dealing with the traffic of London to do something about it.

The noble Lord, with all his talk, gave us no suggestions as to what should be done, except possibly that we should do something about Staines, with which I fully agree. But this is not a week-end problem; it is a daily problem which faces the citizens of London, and I submit that we are not dealing with it too soon. I was a member of the London County Council before the war, and I remember that Hyde Park Corner was one of the problems that we were trying to deal with even at that time—1937 and earlier. My noble friend Lord Latham was there with me and he will know that we spent hours and hours over this problem of Hyde Park Corner. Everybody has tried to find the solution which would be some alternative to taking four or five acres off the Park. I can assure the noble Lord that this scheme is not the first idea. It was never thought that the problem of Hyde Park was an easy matter to negotiate, but this is the simplest way of solving it. Every other alternative was considered and now we are faced frankly with the choice—and the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, cannot get away from this choice—either we carry out this scheme or something like it, or we do nothing worth while about traffic congestion at Hyde Park Corner.

Recently the London County Council have acquired between thirty and thirty-five acres of space in that area of London, at Holland Park, which is quite close to Hyde Park. This is a factor which is worth taking into consideration, because the people of London want open spaces. I agree that there is a certain sanctity about the Royal Parks, but to the Londoner thirty acres of open space at Holland Park available to him is at least as advantageous and beneficial as four to five acres of Hyde Park. For many years the London County Council have been seeking to develop open spaces all over the County with the view of providing people on the outskirts of London as well with open spaces. Therefore, this is not by any means a net loss of open space. Every year there is a net gain.

In life one has to hold the balance. When I was Minister of Town and Country Planning I was constantly up against this problem. Somebody wanted to do something which, on the face of it, was highly undesirable but which, on the other hand, was wanted to solve a problem which would otherwise not be capable of being solved. I had to make a decision. I could not solve the matter by making a speech in Parliament. Here, at long last, a decision is being made. I would make one appeal. I have seen the model—and I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, that I have not taken the bus that is missing. I do not think any Member of your Lordships' House would have taken it. There have been visitors about the place as well as noble Lords. From the model, the scheme looks an attractive proposal.

I am sure that the Government and the London County Council will take heed of the words of my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth and see that it is really made one of the great amenities of London. We can make even a road an amenity. It is true that ninety-three trees will be lost, but, after all, trees have a limited, though long, life, and in the natural order of things these trees would have gone in any case. They are going sooner than they otherwise would. I hope that we shall replace them with an equal number of trees, or even more trees, and in the end we shall not have lost an amenity but gained a new amenity. I am sure that we can do this. I know that the Government and the London County Council will do all that they can to make this an attractive feature of the new London which is being built. I am not going to deal with the traffic aspect, with which the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, dealt. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Blackford, is going to follow me and he and other noble Lords are much more competent to deal with that aspect; but I thought that I would say a word on the question of amenity.

4.5 p.m.


My Lords, I put my name down to say a few words in this debate, first, because I thought that there was going to be some opposition to the proposal of my noble friend Lord Man-croft, and secondly, because, having lived on and off in London all my life, I have a great love for the city, as we all have, and therefore have a great interest in this measure. I can sympathise very much with the views set out so eloquently by my noble friend Lord Conesford, but I think that we ought to look at the matter in proportion.

The size of Hyde Park is 373 acres, to which have to be added about 220 acres or so of Kensington Gardens, and there are the Green Park and St. James's Park which together add up to another 80 or so acres, not to mention Regent's Park and the new Holland Park, to which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, referred, Battersea Park in another district and Victoria Park in the East End. London is very well furnished with parks, and it is also a source of great pride to us that there are so many more open spaces, which I have not mentioned, which perhaps do not merit the name of "Park". I do not know of any other city in the world that I have visited that is so well furnished with green and open spaces, except perhaps Paris, with the Bois de Boulogne. This measure proposes a net decrease in our park space of four to five acres out of the hundreds of acres I have just mentioned.

I went and looked at the model in the Royal Gallery and afterwards, yesterday, I went and looked at the ground itself. I think that the Marble Arch will positively be improved by this scheme. The Marble Arch is now a nasty, arid, circular bit of tarmac. At the speakers' forum there is more tarmac. I should have thought that few trees will need destruction at the Marble Arch, and I think that the layout of the new roundabout proposed, when it is mature—of course, it will look hideous for four or five years—will be a positive improvement on what is there at present.

When we come to Hyde Park Corner, a few trees will be lost for the time being. I love trees, just as does anybody else, but they are not sacrosanct. They are only vegetables, which grow to their full maturity, eventually die and have to be cut down and uprooted. Some people get a kind of worship of trees. For some years I was chairman of the garden committee of the square in which I lived. There was one huge plane tree in a corner of that square—a very fine tree, but it rendered life miserable for the inhabitants of about half a dozen houses who lived immediately round it, because it obscured all light from them and branches poked into their windows. Some of them came to me and begged me to have the tree cut down. So I got the sanction of my committee, with the greatest difficulty—your Lordships would not believe the amount of abuse I had from the inhabitants of the square as a whole who were not affected by this tree. Indeed, the contractor who felled it for me told me that his forester, when up on top of a tree in the corner of another square, cutting away, suddenly found himself faced with a gun pointed at him from the top window of one of the houses and the threat that he would be shot unless he got down. He got down and reported the fact to his boss and the boss went to inquire about it, and found that the offender was no less a personage than one of Her Majesty's counsel at the Bar.

That has rather taken me off the track. I do not think the destruction of amenity on the whole will be so great as is feared by my noble friend Lord Conesford. We shall lose the beautiful Hamilton Garden, which has been such an added attraction to the park; it will be seriously interfered with, although not entirely destroyed. On the whole, when we look at the matter in proportion, I do not think the loss of amenity is a reason for opposing this Bill.

I now come to the actual traffic itself. My noble friend Lord Conesford says that Hyde Park Corner is not all that bad for traffic. I agree with him there. I go round Hyde Park Corner, I suppose, on an average about six times a week, or perhaps even more, at various times of the day and evening, and I would say that the actual going round Hyde Park Corner is not all that bad. Where the delay occurs is in the approaches to Hyde Park Corner. At Constitution Hill, if you happen to be going home at about six o'clock in the evening, you find there is a queue almost up to Buckingham Palace and it takes you a great deal of time to get through. Similarly, coming up from Wilton Place there are occasions when the traffic is extremely bad. This scheme, in my view, is designed not so much to improve affairs at Hyde Park Corner as to improve them between Hyde Park Corner and Marble Arch. Up Park Lane many delays occur. If you wish to turn off anywhere into Stanhope Street or into Brook Street there are many delays; if you are coming down Park Lane, there are traffic lights and policemen and many delays. In my view, the most important part of this scheme is to secure a flow of traffic from north to south.

I feel that the present roundabout at Marble Arch is a very bad one. The Cumberland Hotel ought never to have been built where it is without the entrance being recessed, as is that of the Westbury Hotel in Conduit Street, which gives no additional trouble in consequence. The entrance to the Cumberland Hotel was not recessed, and there are all day long and far into the night taxis, luggage and passengers disembarking, which very much increases the congestion in Great Cumberland Place and, in my view, makes that roundabout worse than Hyde Park Corner. I am sorry to hear that there is to be no underpass treatment at that junction, and I hope that it may not be too late to reconsider the point.

Another area which was mentioned in the debate in the other place was down towards Wilton Place and Sloane Street where the road narrows. A bottleneck occurs there, and one frequently finds that if one has successfully negotiated Hyde Park Corner one is held up for a long time, particularly in the evening, at Wilton Place. I hope that efforts will be made to improve that position. It was suggested in the other place that the pavement to the south might be narrowed to about four or five feet. I think that suggestion is worth considering, because the pedestrian traffic at that particular point is, on the whole, not congested. Another suggestion is that Wilton Place should be made a place where there is no right turn. A third suggestion is that Albert Gate should be permanently closed. All of these seem to me to be important suggestions, well worthy of consideration, in order to get a free flow of traffic in that particular bottleneck, so that the improvements that we achieve at Hyde Park Corner shall not be frittered away when you get down towards Sloane Street.


My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves that point, I would remind him that the scheme for the new Bowater building at that corner contains a big double traffic road into the Park, which we hope will meet many of the objections the noble Lord has just raised.


I am aware of that, and it will be interesting to see what effect it has, although somehow I think the bottleneck may still be there and may still need treatment.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, spoke about car parking, and asked: "Are cars going to be allowed to park along this new road?"—and he hinted, in fact, that they certainly should not be allowed to park there. My noble friend Lord Conesford said: "If this encroachment on the Park is permitted, where is it going to end? There is no doubt that people will want to use other parts of it as a car park." Between those two, how are we going to reach some agreement? Car parking is here, whether we like it or not, and it will increase, whether we like it or not; and something must be done for the car parker. I submit that there are parts of Hyde Park which could be used as a car park without decreasing the amenities or destroying a single tree. For instance, as a small boy I used to ride frequently in Rotten Row—I am speaking of about the year 1895. In those days, Rotten Row was full of riders every day. How many people ride in Rotten Row to-day? I should have thought that it was a very small number, and those who do largely consist of small parties of children learning to ride.

The top part of Rotten Row, close to Hyde Park Corner, has no trees on it. I submit that there is plently of room there to make a car park which would take several hundred cars and thus enable the owners of those cars to take a train from Hyde Park Corner to their destinations further East. Similarly, I have for a long time thought that Rotten Row at the Marble Arch end is practically unused by riders and is really wasted space. Nobody can say that a sandy track is a thing of beauty, and, heaven knows! nobody can say that a car park is a thing of beauty; the one is the same as the other; nevertheless, the one is useful, while the other no longer is. Therefore, I submit that that part of Rotten Row between Marble Arch and towards Victoria Gate might be used as a car park, and people who parked there could take the train from Marble Arch further East. Those are slightly controversial points which I fear will not be agreed to by my noble friend Lord Conesford. But we have to face the unpalatable fact of cars and car parks, and something will have to be done about them. Apart from that, I support my noble friend Lord Mancroft, and I hope that this Bill will obtain a Second Reading with the full approval of your Lordships' House.


My Lords, we have arranged to interrupt business at this point in order to deal with Leave of Absence questions. There are still a number of noble Lords who wish to speak on the Bill before the House. I suggest that my noble friend Lord Mancroft might make some inquiries to ascertain whether it is felt that we should continue with this Bill later to-day, or adjourn the discussion until to-morrow, and I can move something to that effect at a later stage. In the meantime, I should like to move that the debate on this Bill be adjourned.

Moved, that the debate be adjourned.—(The Earl of Home).

On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.