§ 3.57 p.m.
§ Debate resumed (according to Order), on the Motion for Second Reading moved yesterday by Lord Mancroft.
§ LORD GISBOROUGH
My Lords, there is no doubt that at first sight the Park Lane Improvement Bill is viewed by all with the greatest favour, as are all Bills dealing with the improvement of roads. However, though the objects may be admirable I feel that the means it implies are not at all good, and I have the gravest doubts whether the scheme would succeed in its objects. I think that many noble Lords will have been considerably reassured by Lord Mancroft's statement yesterday that the utmost care will be taken to retain as many trees and amenities as possible. One point on which I should like reassurance, however—and I think there are many other people who would also—is the Cavalry Memorial. It is a very 1007 well-loved Memorial and there is a very big parade every March (I believe it is) when a large number of Cavalrymen come to parade before it. Could an assurance be given that this Memorial will be placed in a most suitable position and with the full accord of suitable senior Cavalry officers?
§ LORD MANCROFT
My Lords, perhaps I might interrupt to give the noble Lord that assurance at once. The matter is being discussed with the Royal Armoured Corps, with a view to cooperating with them concerning their Memorial. It will probably be in the vicinity; probably just inside the new gates on the south road.
§ LORD GISBOROUGH
With regard to the improvement scheme itself, I wonder whether Hyde Park Corner is the correct place to start these alterations. Hyde Park Corner is a place of traffic jams only at rush hours—indeed, at ten o'clock to-day I drove straight through it without being held up for a moment.
§ LORD GISBOROUGH
Even when the buses are running I have found the same thing, although perhaps the road has not been quite so clear. But in St. James's, Regent Street, Piccadilly and Knightsbridge (to mention a few places) there is a constant "jam"; there is in these places a far greater jam", when buses are running, than there is at Hyde Park Corner. It should be remembered, perhaps, that even if the plan is put into effect, the buses will be using the Corner when they return.
If this new plan succeeds there will be a constant flow of traffic in all directions. Presumably this constant flow will be towards Piccadilly, so that if one comes from the direction of the Ritz and wants to go to Park Lane Hotel, it will be impossible to cross over the road in either direction. It will be necessary to go right round the whole Corner before one can get across the road. This constant flow of traffic will also pile up against Knightsbridge and Piccadilly Circus and the area of St. James's, with no phasing by lights, as there is at the moment, so that the traffic can sort itself out. What plans are there for relieving 1008 this constant flow of traffic on either side, in the way it has been so well catered for towards Marble Arch?
This is a grandiose plan. Cannot we be reassured that it is going to be effective not just for twenty years' time but for almost all time? Because a plan of this size should be big enough to last almost for ever. One point which I think has been omitted is parking facilities. On June 11 the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, said that parking facilities in the Park would be slightly decreased by this plan. When so many millions are being spent, and so much roadway and park is being dug up for foundations, would it not be a comparatively small matter to dig a little deeper and create underground car parks, perhaps at the two corners and in the middle of the new dual-carriageway? Surely this is an opportunity which will not come again. I sincerely hope that the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Blackford, of using Rotten Row for parking, will not be countenanced. It would be a great pity to have a mass of cars visible in the Park.
With regard to the actual working of the plan, competent foreign authorities have condemned it because they say that it will not work. I trust that their reasons for saying this have been fully studied. I think that, with a plan of this size, if there are any reasonable doubts, we should be satisfied whether or not they are correct. I myself have grave doubts whether the plan is adequate. First, the openings from the dual-carriageway are opposite streets running into Mayfair, so that, for example, anyone coming out of Upper Grosvenor Street and intending to go north will have to cross over at right angles to the traffic coming south, which seems to me to be a bad plan, necessitating lights or some form of control which, ideally, should not be necessary.
Then, surely, the road going round the roundabout is, as planned, far too narrow for "weaving" traffic. London Transport have said that they will not use the underpass road. I believe that only 14 per cent. of the traffic using the spot at the moment will use the underpass. Surely that percentage will soon be made up by the increase in the number of cars on the road. With all the buses on the 1009 roundabout, and the increased traffic to absorb the 14 per cent., in spite of the area which the roundabout is to take up there will still be a great amount of crossing, intermingling traffic. The Park Lane—Constitution Hill traffic will be crossing with the Knightsbridge—Piccadilly traffic; the Piccadilly to Victoria traffic with the Park Lane—Constitution Hill traffic; the Constitution Hill—Knightsbridge traffic with the Piccadilly to Victoria. So it goes on all the way round. The scheme provides for a comparatively narrow entrance to Knightsbridge—certainly no wider than the one at the moment. Again, with all the buses and only 7 per cent. less traffic (7 per cent. is going the other way) surely there will be no less a jam than there is at the moment and certainly no improvement. I do not think that this roundabout is a satisfactory proposition at all.
One route which I think has been entirely neglected is the route from Piccadilly to Belgrave Square, Pond Street and out to the West. That route has been given no special treatment, and one has only to go that way to see how many cars use it. The same may be said of traffic from Belgrave Square coming eastwards. Surely a scheme of such magnitude cannot be allowed to start with such basic and inherent faults. The whole corner is to be enlarged in area. The Royal Parks are to be decreased. The only advantage is that there will be 14 per cent. less traffic using the surface roads, of which presumably only 7 per cent. will be effective in any one direction. Apart from the enlargement of the whole area, there is to be no great improvement; and what imporvement there is will be taken up very soon by the increase in traffic. There will still be a "jam"—but over a larger acreage. If there is not a "jam," the constant stream down St. James's, Piccadilly and Knightsbridge will be made infinitely worse, unless improvements to the approaches are planned and integrated with this present scheme.
If a scheme of this size is to be undertaken, surely it would be more sensible that we should tackle effectively the problems of this "weaving" traffic, of which there are no fewer than eight or nine different permutations. It should be well linked with the traffic problems for a mile in all directions, just as it has been so well linked with the Marble Arch. Until the time when a comprehensive 1010 plan, even if only for the future, can be made, surely it is preferable to modify the present set-up. I believe that the present "jam" is caused by one main source. I firmly believe that if the traffic going from St. George's into the Park could be diverted, perhaps taken to the West and then into the Park, that would allow a constant flow up North and then to the West and East, and the whole "jam" would be vastly relieved at a much lower cost than the enormous scheme envisaged at the moment.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, would the noble Lord be kind enough to inform the House whither he would divert the traffic. Where would it enter the Park from St. George's?
§ LORD GISBOROUGH
I cannot claim to be a road designer, but I had in mind that if the traffic was not allowed to cross over and through the Decimus Burton screen but had to go to the left, towards the West, perhaps it could turn into the Park by a tunnel or some means of that sort. The road planners would have a much better idea than I have, but I believe that it might be the answer. Perhaps not; I do not know. Of course, there would be a great need for pedestrian tunnels. I dislike this plan. I do not think it achieves enough improvement over what we have at present. It does not improve the problem of cross-traffic and mingling traffic; and until such time as they may be altered, it infinitely worsens the position of Knightsbridge and Piccadilly.
May I interrupt the noble Lord to remind him that in any through-traffic route, if one looks over the entire country, there are bound to be a series of bottlenecks. If one is going to remedy them, one can start only with one at a time; we cannot deal with them all at once.
§ LORD GISBOROUGH
I agree. But I feel that when the time comes for a complete review, in order to make the traffic flow readily through Piccadilly and Knightsbridge, it may be necessary to alter Hyde Park Corner to fit in with the plan. I dislike the plan for several reasons: it reduces the Royal Parks; it has no parking facilities attached to it; the tunnel is unacceptable to the buses; and the gain on any one side will be only 7 per
1011 cent. I believe that the problem is soluble on a far more limited and less costly scale by modification of the present corner, which is by no means London's worst bottleneck, until such time as complete control of all the West End traffic can be incorporated in one co-ordinated plan.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ LORD DERWENT
My Lords, I find myself in almost entire agreement with what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, said yesterday. It follows, I suppose, that I am to a large extent in disagreement with my noble friend Lord Conesford; and I think I am in disagreement with my noble friend Lord Gisborough, although I am not clear as to what he meant. So far as I understand it, the gist of his speech was this: first, that because traffic is going to increase largely in the near future, you should therefore do nothing now; and secondly, that this does not answer the whole traffic problem of Central London, The first argument I must disagree with; but with the second, that it does not answer the whole traffic problem of Central London, I entirely agree.
I am not going to enter in detail into my differences with my noble friend Lord Conesford, because I imagine that my noble friend Lord Mancroft will deal with what is necessary, but I will say this. With respect, I think that much of my noble friend's argument yesterday was based on prejudice rather than on reason. I do not wish to be in any way impolite, but I should like to quote one paragraph from the noble Lord's speech. In column 878 of yesterday's Hansard the noble Lord was discussing the question of a roundabout at Marble Arch. The argument against having underpasses there, so he said—and indeed it is true—is the excessive cost owing to the valuable property in Edgware Road which would have to be demolished. That was, I think, the reason given by the Ministry; and it certainly is the reason why a roundabout is being used there. Then the noble Lord went on to say: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?1012 What on earth has the roundabout at Marble Arch got to do with the amenities of Green Park?
I will deal, first of all, with my view of the amenities. It is most regrettable that they have to be affected in certain directions, but I think a sense of proportion is necessary here. With this scheme, unfortunately, a considerable slice has to be taken off Green Park—that I admit. On the immediate inside of Hyde Park at Hyde Park Corner the amenities are not, in fact, affected. That is not an open space amenity; it is a roadway open space. It is there now, and does not take away anything from the open space element of the Park. On the way up Park Lane, on the west of the present East Carriage Drive, I think I am correct in saying that no trees will have to come down. On the part that is between the East Carriage Drive and Park Lane, for the whole length of the Park there will be somewhere about ten or twelve trees (the exact number is not yet certain) that will have to come down.
When we get to Marble Arch, in my view anything that is done to Marble Arch from the amenity point of view must be an improvement on the present situation. I always think of that corner of Marble Arch—and I include the roadway—as something of a Park slum. I think that this new design will be a great improvement; and in my view, it will be a great improvement from the amenity point of view when the Speakers' Corner is set rather farther back. So I think, on balance, regrettable as the Green Park end is, we are not losing very much; and as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, said yesterday, this is a matter where we have to balance one thing against another.
As regards the actual road and traffic side of the question, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said yesterday that this matter has been discussed since 1937. I think it must have been discussed, first of all, somewhere about 1850, when I know there were complaints about the crowds of carriages at Hyde Park Corner. The London County Council have at any rate been dealing with this matter certainly since 1937, and before. In the decision that has been taken on the present plan I am fully aware that the expert road engineers and road designers have disagreed. There are various methods of dealing with the matter. The Ministry, 1013 and successive Ministers, have had all the information and all the advice from all sides as to the best method of handling it, and, on balance, they have decided on this scheme. It may not be perfect, but, in my view, it is probably as good as any other.
What is my noble friend Lord Cones-ford asking? This is a problem which exists. It is no good saying that Hyde Park Corner is satisfactory. It carries this great volume of traffic, and it is, apart from the volume of traffic, owing to its shape, size and the way the traffic comes in and out, an extremely dangerous corner. This is the scheme that is considered the best—I am not suggesting it is the best, because that is, among the experts, a matter of opinion, some taking one view and some another. But if this Bill does not go forward, nothing will be done for another three years; the same result will probably come out "in the wash," and the same scheme will be put forward again.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for allowing me to explain. He has asked what I am asking for. The answer is quite simple. I am asking for the publication to this House of the report on this scheme and the experiments made by the Road Research Laboratory. I think it is a reasonable demand that, if we are to take twenty-one acres of the Royal Parks—though I know some of that is carriageway—we should at least know that, in the opinion of the traffic experts, the scheme is going to work. We have been refused that report.
§ LORD DERWENT
Unfortunately I cannot answer the noble Lord in detail about the Road Research Laboratory, because I have had a confidential indication (not from the Minister) and therefore I must say nothing about it; I must leave it to the Minister. As to which view they take, I am not going to hazard a guess. But assuming—and I by no means assume it—that they take a view against this particular plan (I have no reason to think they do) other experts are in favour of the plan, and you will simply get the same thing over again. I am a great admirer of the Road Research Laboratory, but they are only one expert against another. I repeat, that what the noble Lord is asking for is that this Bill should not go forward. If it does not go forward 1014 now we shall have several years' delay and the result may be the same.
As regards the actual traffic, I hope and trust that this plan will be adequate for internal traffic—I will explain what I mean in a minute. Even on Lord Conesford's figure of 14 per cent. of the traffic approaching Hyde Park Corner going through the underpasses—and I do not accept or reject that figure; I do not know how it is arrived at—that is an improvement, because that traffic will not be using Hyde Park Corner. Are we never going to have any improvement because the percentage is not high enough? That may be the right percentage or it may not; I do not know. But it is time we had an improvement.
This scheme will not be adequate for the traffic going there unless, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, said yesterday, we deal with the through traffic; that is to say, the traffic coming into one end of London and going out the other—Ealine to the Docks, for example, where the quickest way is to go through Central London. Owing to the ring roads being old-fashioned and congested and having crossroads and so on, very often the quickest way for through traffic is, strange to say, through the centre of London. If ring roads are made with limited access, even if traffic has to do an extra five miles of route it will probably save half an hour in traffic jams. This is only part of a large scheme, but it will not work until through traffic is taken out of the centre of London, and you will not do that except by providing proper roads. This is only part of the total scheme. On the other hand, it would be madness not to start improving things, instead of arguing year in and year out whether something might or might not be an improvement. This is, at any rate, an improvement.
I want to raise one minor question and ask the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, for some help. Immediately behind the garden of 148, Piccadilly—not Apsley House but 148, Piccadilly—just outside the present garden fence and inside the Park is a specimen plane tree. It is, I am informed, the largest plane tree in any of the parks. It is a magnificent tree in very good condition and clearly one of the finest trees in London. There has been a difference of opinion amongst the experts, as usual. As the plan is 1015 made at the moment, there is just beyond that tree to be the roadway of an island, a roadway which is called "Southern Apsley Link". I am informed by some experts that if we move that island a few yards to the north, or alternatively if we cut a bit off the southern piece of that island, the tree can be saved and the traffic flow will not be affected. The other experts, who are largely on the engineering side, say that it will interrupt the flow of the traffic. It is such a magnificent tree that it ought to be saved if possible, and I merely ask my noble friend if he will have a special look at it. My own advisers think somebody may be being pigheaded. On the other hand, they may not. Will he see if it can be saved? I do not know.
§ 4.25 p.m.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
My Lords, I was one of the noble Lords who accompanied the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, last Friday morning on the expedition to look at the ground plan of this scheme on the spot itself. In the first place, I should like to thank very much those who made that possible and made the morning so interesting and took so much trouble to show us everything in great detail. Although I am not a great expert on this subject, I should like to point out a few things which impressed me about this scheme.
The first is that although so much of the Park is apparently going to be taken, in fact only four and a half acres of amenities throughout the entire area are going to be lost from grass to roadway, and I think that that is an astonishingly small acreage to lose in so large a scheme in the middle of London. In addition, although the total figure to be lost from the Royal Parks is twenty-one acres—and, of course, I regret that as much as any other noble Lord—the reason this is being done is because the Park railings on the east side, which at the moment run in between Park Lane and the East Carriage Drive, are going to be moved to the west side of the East Carriage Drive. The central strip between Park Lane and the East Carriage Drive, although it will no longer technically be in the Royal Parks, will still be green. It will be more accessible than it is at the moment, as any noble Lord will know who has tried to cross the East 1016 Carriage Drive in the middle of the day, because there will be subways; and in fact I very much doubt whether there will be much loss of amenity in that central strip.
As for the Green Park, a great deal has been said about the lamentable loss of the row of trees flanking Piccadilly from Down Street up to Hyde Park Corner. I would agree that it is a great pity that any fine plane trees of that size should be lost. But nobody has yet said that there is in fact a second row of trees inside Green Park which will stretch almost as far as does the present outside row and will not be touched by the present scheme, so that those who look out from offices on the north side of Piccadilly will still look at green plane trees, and at one point a chestnut tree.
Further on towards Grosvenor Gardens there will be lost the triangle of what is at the present moment marked green on the corner of Buckingham Palace Gardens. If any noble Lord looks at that particular corner, I do not think he will say that much amenity will be lost if that is no longer kept green. It is not open to the public; it is full of weeds and it takes the form of a high bank with some rather nondescript shrubs upon it. On the other hand, in the middle of Hyde Park Corner at the moment there is a large expanse of concrete and some small plane trees, of which at least two are almost dead. I am not surprised they are dead considering the amount of the exhaust fumes that must be puffed out at them every day in the morning and the evening when the traffic is stationary all round them. On the contrary, this scheme provides for a large area of green grass in the centre of Hyde Park Corner and more trees than there are at present. Among other things, I suggest that that will be a great deal pleasanter prospect for St. George's Hospital than the present expanse of concrete and half-dead plane trees.
I do not know very much about the traffic scheme, but I have driven round Hyde Park Corner many times and it would surprise me if the traffic went any slower by the removal of traffic lights at St. George's Hospital Corner. At the moment, either the traffic coming up the side of St. George's Hospital from the south is stationary, or the traffic coming from west to east along Knightsbridge is stationary. As the scheme is now intended 1017 to go, that traffic will not be stationary in any direction at any point. It will have to weave across, but there will not be any period in which traffic lights are red and cars cannot cross each other.
As for the traffic at Marble Arch, I cannot but feel that any improvement would be a large one. In the rush hour there are two small gates for all the traffic to get out of the Park, and there are two small gates by which to get in. When the traffic gets into the Park from Marble Arch itself and wishes to turn west it has to cross all the traffic that is waiting to go out of the Park by those gates. Equally, all the traffic which is going along the North Carriage Drive and which has to go along the East Carriage Drive in a southerly direction also has to cross all the traffic which is going out of the gate from south to north. As the scheme is proposed, there will be one traffic island and the traffic will all go round in the same direction, from whatever direction it may have come. I cannot but think that this is a scheme which is going to make a great difference, and improvement, and the cost in amenities is not very great in comparison. I would support the scheme.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ LORD LATHAM
My Lords, I rise most warmly to support the Second Reading of this Bill, which is designed to authorise the carrying out at Hyde Park of a most comprehensive, imaginative and bold scheme to deal with a congestion problem that is probably the most acute there is in London. As the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, has said, this problem has been under consideration by the London County Council and by the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation for many years. I can remember as far back as 1946 considering at County Hall a number of schemes then designed to deal with this problem, and I think it would be a thousand pities if now, some twelve years after, we should hesitate to carry out a scheme which on balance, as my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth said yesterday, has the advantage of adequately dealing with the problem.
It has been said that this is the largest single scheme carried out in London since the construction of Kingsway in 1905. I would remind the House that that scheme was most strenuously opposed, yet few would be heard to say now, or for some 1018 years past, that Kingsway was not a successful road improvement scheme. I do not wish to revive old controversies, but I cannot help reflecting this afternoon upon the opposition which the construction of Waterloo Bridge met with between the wars—an opposition which, unhappily, was shared by the Government of the day, with the result that the London County Council were punished for carrying out their statutory duty and responsibility to the tune of loss of grant of some £220,000. The demolition of the old bridge, which was opposed among others by the Royal Fine Art Commission, was of course part of a larger scheme to embrace the north and south approaches; and if those approaches be taken into account with the bridge, probably that scheme would be larger in extent and cost than the present scheme in respect of Marble Arch and Hyde Park Corner. But who would say now that the London County Council were wrong? They have constructed what I think may be described, with due modesty, as one of the most beautiful bridges in this country, and it may well be in Europe. It is a pity that the scheme for the improvement of the northern approach at Wellington Street has not proceeded.
I well recall agreeing with the then Minister of Transport as far back as 1939, after a long tussle, the rate of grant which we should receive in respect of that scheme which even then was a most expensive scheme, having regard to the property which would have to be acquired. Now the powers have been obtained and a fair measure of the property has been acquired. I understand that that scheme is one of those receiving the attention of the Committee presided over by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation as to priorities in respect of London street improvements. I hope that it may earn a reasonable and respectable priority. As regards the approach from the south the Elephant and Castle scheme is in hand and I gather that the first half is proceeding satisfactorily. May I say here, as it were in parenthesis, that London is not under-bridged? The trouble with London's bridges is the bad approaches to them, which render nugatory much of the facility which the bridge has for traffic; and informed opinion is satisfied that if we could improve the approaches 1019 to Waterloo Bridge it would result in a considerable relief of congestion both on the north and on the south of that bridge.
One of the chief objections to the present scheme at Hyde Park Corner is the encroachment on the Royal Parks. No one would desire to encroach upon any park or open space, whether Royal or otherwise, if it were avoidable. No one would wish to take more than is absolutely essential. I think those persons responsible for designing this scheme have really achieved a great success in being able so to fashion it, if I may use that phrase, that no more than about 4½ acres net will be taken from the Royal Parks. It is regrettable that anything should be taken, but that is a fairly minimum amount. As my noble friend Lord Silkin said yesterday, offset against that, and quite near to it, is the fact that the London County Council has acquired Holland Park, an area of 38 acres. I am always encouraged when I remember that I was largely instrumental in advising the London County Council to acquire that open space just before I resigned from the Council in 1947. I will say, quite frankly, that I could have wished that that 38 acres had been in some other part of London, notably in the congested boroughs of the East End and South-East London, but one has to take the land for open space where it is available. But as I say, I am very proud that the London County Council, after much negotiation, succeeded in acquiring that open space for the benefit for all time of the people of London.
The London County Council propose to spend some £500,000 on the lay-out of the reservation and islands, on the advice—and I stress this—of the Royal Fine Art Commission. As has been said, the East Carriage Drive is now a traffic route carrying an enormous volume of cars and similar vehicles. The scheme does nothing more in that respect than regularise and control the position, as it will also regularise traffic through Park Lane; and unless that is done we may easily find that traffic passing, as it now does, along the East Carriage Drive and Park Lane will come to something near a standstill.
Then the question of the destruction of trees has been raised in opposition. No sensible person would wish to destroy trees, but they are not sacrosanct, as 1020 Lord Blackford said yesterday—indeed, additional trees can be planted. Many of the local authorities in London have for years been planting additional trees along their highways and their streets. The matter was initiated by Dr. Salter in Bermondsey as far back as 1920. Dr. Salter was a fine citizen of London, devoted to Bermondsey, and when he became Mayor of Bermondsey he instituted a policy of planting trees in its dingy streets. Furthermore, as the Council at that time had no power to spend money on the planting of trees, Dr. Salter paid for them out of his own pocket. Now that the authorities have that power, they have over the past twenty years planted quite a number of trees. My Lords, desirable and beautiful as are trees, we cannot live by trees alone.
Questions have been raised about why we are retaining Hamilton Place in the scheme as the main southbound traffic route into Hyde Park Corner. That matter has been very carefully considered on more than one occasion. The essence of the Hyde Park Corner problem is that a considerable proportion of the total traffic wishes to turn in one direction or another, and fly-overs and underpasses are of no direct value to these traffic streams. Of the various methods of catering for them, roundabout operation in which interweaving of different streams is facilitated was agreed by all those concerned to be the most satisfactory. On this basis, if "weaving" for southbound traffic from Hamilton Place were to be provided, the central island at Hyde Park Corner would have to be much larger and the underpass longer, resulting in a much less favourable time factor; and, what is not less important, more of Green Park would be absorbed. If the island were kept to the present size, there would be a direct traffic cut, as at present, at Hamilton Place, and this would require signal control at this corner of the central island. This would greatly reduce the traffic capacity of the intersection and would increase delays. Another disadvantage would be that Hamilton Place would become of inadequate width, and in these circumstances the widening would have been very costly. I think that is a satisfactory answer to the quite understandable point as to what function Hamilton Place will serve in the reconstructed area.
1021 I am sure that we are all pleased that the Government ultimately accepted the necessity for a four-lane underpass, which I believe was the original suggestion of the London County Council. It istrue that it will cost £750,000 more, but my own view is that that will be money well spent; especially as we gather from the statement by the Minister in another place that the two-lane underpass would have provided for no more than a 40 per cent. reserve capacity over the next ten to fifteen years, whereas in another connection the Ministry have told local authorities to make provision in their plans for a 75 per cent. increase in traffic within the next ten to fifteen years. I find it difficult to understand why the Minister should have first decided on no more than a two-lane underpass. One can only hope that the four-lane provision will be adequate for the needs of the future. My noble friend, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, raised yesterday the question of congestion as a consequence of increased traffic from the underpass into Sloane Street, Brompton Road and Kensington. He also asked whether it would create a bottleneck in Knightsbridge. I understand that the interim improvement scheme at Knightsbridge will take care of this increase in traffic.
We are informed that the scheme is acceptable to the Westminster City Council, to the Paddington Borough Council and to the St. Marylebone Borough Council, and that the various Ministers concerned have also approved. It is the case that the Royal Fine Art Commission are opposed to the whole scheme in general because of its encroachment on the Royal Parks, notwithstanding that the extent of that encroachment is no more than 4.4 acres. I regret this opposition. One has some respect for the Royal Fine Art Commission; but, after all, they are not an arbitration court: their decision is not necessarily final. The final decision must rest with the authorities charged with the responsibilty of dealing with matters of this kind, subject always, of course, to the approval and consent of Parliament. I am pleased to observe that the County Council and the Commission will be working together in connection with the layout of the strip and of the island, and no doubt in respect of other elements of amenity associated with the scheme.
1022 My noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth criticised—I thought perhaps a little unfairly—the London Transport Executive because of their decision that buses shall not use the underpass. First of all, one must bear in mind that the London Transport Executive are charged by Her Majesty's Government to provide a convenient, safe and speedy service of passenger transport. There is nothing to justify the idea that London Transport is against underpasses. I could point to scores of places where it would be of great advantage to London Transport if there were underpasses. But they must have regard to the facts of the case. Perhaps your Lordships will care to hear what they are.
London Transport have been forced to the conclusion that buses cannot use the underpass because if they were to do so it would be necessary to move bus stops in Knightsbridge so far away from the main traffic objective—Hyde Park Corner itself—that the public would be gravely inconvenienced. One cannot dispose of the demand reasonably to satisfy public convenience as regards a passenger transport service. Moreover, London Transport are not able themselves to determine where a bus stop shall be. Bus stops cannot be put just anywhere, and the location of each bus stop must be approved finally by the Metropolitan Police.
In any case, not all buses could use the underpass, even if that were justified on traffic grounds. There are only five routes—Numbers 9, 14, 19, 22 and 96—which traverse the crossing from east to west to and from Piccadilly and Knightsbridge. The others either turn or cross from north to south. If the buses on those five routes were to be put through the underpass it would be necessary for the stopping places for eastbound and westbound buses now located in close proximity to the intersection itself, in Knightsbridge, to be moved about 400 yards west to about the location of the existing stops opposite Wilton Place—to which the police already object because of the narrowness of the road.
In effect, therefore, the Hyde Park Corner stops would have to be eliminated, and the eastbound stops in Piccadilly which are shared with other services would require to be moved a further distance east, still further away 1023 from the traffic objective, so as to give adequate space for buses to cross the traffic stream on emerging from the ramped exit of the underpass. It is important to appreciate that much of the passenger traffic at Hyde Park Corner is interchange traffic between bus route and bus route and between road and underground. So far as the five routes in question are concerned, this interchange traffic would be completely disrupted, to the continuing serious inconvenience of the public.
According to the census of 1956 carried out by the Metropolitan Polic, 91,000 vehicles proceed through Hyde Park Corner in twelve hours. Of those 91,000 vehicles no more than 7,602 are buses; that is 8 per cent. Coaches total 1,213–1 per cent—and other traffic, 82,185, being 91 per cent. The buses on the five routes that could be sent via the underpass account for about one quarter of the total bus traffic, and no more than 2 per cent. of the total traffic. No coaches could use the underpass because the routes run along Piccadilly.
I recall that my noble friend, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, asked: "Why should not London Transport re-route its buses?" It is not as simple as that. It is not simply a question of changing the routes to Hyde Park Corner. Other routes and services reaching far away to other districts of London would have to be adjusted, and that would almost certainly create more congestion in those parts even though it might lead to less congestion at Hyde Park Corner. For those reasons I believe your Lordships will agree that London Transport are perfectly entitled to take the view that buses should not proceed to use the underpass.
May I conclude by saying that the London County Council, despite its critics—and it has many (and probably deserves some of them)—is not a body composed of Philistines. It has as much regard for preserving open spaces in London as any other body of persons, whether in London or outside; and it has given outward and visible proof of that. At the present time the London County Council maintains 133 parks or open spaces. The noble Marquess, Lord Aberdeen and Temair, was for some years the Chairman of the Parks Committee and knows with what care and concern the London 1024 County Council in those days protected, improved and beautified the open spaces within its charge and mostly within its ownership; and it is no less concerned in these days.
The London County Council spends upwards of £1¾ million a year on maintaining and providing open spaces and also providing for suitable entertainments in those open spaces. The problem of London's open spaces is not so much that we are, in totality, short of them but that our open spaces are so badly distributed. That is the real problem of London. In the County of London Plan it was suggested, I think with the assent of most persons who were informed, that it would be a modest provision to have 4½ acres of open space per 1,000 of the population. The County of London, on that basis, is short of some 6,218 acres; and even on the basis of 2½ acres per 1,000 of the population there is a deficiency of about 3,000 acres. In some areas (and I am not saying this in a critical sense), the area is some 7 acres or 6 acres or 5 acres per 1,000 of the population; whereas in Shoreditch it is less than half an acre per 1,000 of the population; in Southwark it is even less; in Finsbury it is less; and in Islington also it is less.
It is in those areas that we need additional open space, which would, I readily admit, be no justification for encroaching upon existing open spaces. I raise these facts merely to show what the position is as regards open spaces and to make this point: that the residents of those areas are without adequate open space and have little open space at all. I believe I am right in saying that in Shoreditch almost all the open space available consists of disused burial grounds or graveyards. It means that the people who live in those districts should have good transport communications to get to the places where there are open spaces, which is another argument in favour of this important scheme. Apart from the parks being great natural "lungs", they are also places to which people wish to go to get the repose which comes from them and the entertainment which is provided; and this scheme will make the approaches and access to Hyde Park much more safe, much more convenient and much more speedy. I think that this improvement will become a 1025 great amenity as well as a great traffic improvement, and I hope that your Lordships will give the Bill your unanimous support.
§ LORD LATHAM
I am sorry, my Lords, I cannot. I am no longer officially associated with London Transport and therefore I am unable to give that information. But if the noble Earl will let me have a note of the point I will ascertain what the views of London Transport may be upon it.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ LORD MANCROFT
My Lords, no Victorian Duchess with her carriage and pair on a Sunday morning could have driven round Hyde Park more conscientiously or more argumentatively than your Lordships on the Second Reading of this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Latham, has driven further afield still; and I do not propose to traverse the ground again. But I should like, briefly, to answer one or two points which have been specifically put to me.
A point which many of your Lordships have raised is the question of the bus stops at Hyde Park Corner, and that, fortunately, has been answered for me, most accurately, by the noble Lord, Lord Latham. That is the answer. Several of your Lordships have asked about the timetable of this scheme and have criticised the length of time it is proposed to spend upon it. Her Majesty's Government agree that once Parliament have passed the Bill the scheme should be carried out with all possible speed. The London County Council intend to do so; but they and the police will have to work out a very careful programme in order to keep traffic moving throughout the whole period. My right honourable friend the Minister of Transport has asked to he kept informed of the timetable for all stages of the work.
Your Lordships have on more than one occasion mentioned underpasses at Brussels and in other Continental cities. I am certain that those comparisons are a little misleading. Here we have at Hyde Park Corner one of the busiest junctions in Europe, and the traffic must 1026 be kept going all the time, in an area where there are practically no suitable alternative routes. I think it is clear that it will not be possible to attack the whole scheme at once and that it will have to be carefully phased in stages. And, unlike some of these places abroad where underpasses have been successfully dug, you cannot just go digging down under Hyde Park Corner at random. If you look for the first time at a map of what goes on underneath Hyde Park Corner you will be amazed to see how much goes on. If you dig to the right you are liable to come out at Kings' Scholars' Pond Sewer; if you dig to the left you are liable to put half the telephones in South-West London out of action; if you dig too far down you are liable to cut into the Piccadilly Tube; and if you stay too near the surface you are liable to get your ears boxed by the noble Lord, Lord Conesford. It is a very difficult operation and one which will require expert phasing.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth (who asked me to apologise for the fact that he cannot be present), raised the question of notice to owners of property. They are mostly concerned with the shops on the north side of the west end of the underpass. We give under the Bill fourteen days' notice, and he thinks that is too short. I think, actually, that a period of x days would have been all right to give, because this is a nominal period. Everybody knows about this scheme; there has been consultation, and there will be consultation; and I have not heard of any complaints about it. I agree that we do not want to appear to do injustice and certainly not to do injustice. If the noble Lord has had any complaints I shall be grateful to know of them. In the meantime. I will look at the matter again, and if a further period will meet his difficulty I shall be pleased to put down an Amendment to that effect. But I must emphasise that we have not received any petitions against the provisions, although we do not set enormous store by the figure which actually appears in the Bill.
I wish I could help the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, about his magnificent plane tree. I should have liked it to go down to history with King Charles's Oak and Washington's cherry tree; but the engineers tell me—and I will check on this point—that, if the tree he refers to is 1027 the one I have in mind, at the west end of the southern Apsley Link, it is an enormous tree with very big roots, and if the island is moved to preserve that tree it will cause chaos in the traffic pattern at that place. But I will not ask the noble Lord to accept that; I will go and look at the tree with the experts, and if I can meet the noble Lord's point I shall be happy to do so. I hope that I have made it clear to your Lordships that I deplore the loss of these trees just as much as your Lordships do.
As to car parking, I may say that the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, raised this matter some time ago in a supplementary question. I told him then, and I repeat it, that we intend, if it is possible (and I think it will be possible), to get as many cars as possible out of the Park when this scheme is in operation.
§ LORD MANCROFT
First I will tell the noble Earl where they will not go. They will not go in car parks built on or under Rotten Row. I am sorry not to support the noble Lord, Lord Blackford, on that point, but it is one of the few things about which I could not agree with him. There has been a question, about which we have talked on more than one occasion, of a car park under the open space at the north-east end of Hyde Park. That could be done without affecting trees or amenities at all. This may be some time ahead, however, and it is a rather nebulous suggestion at the moment, but we may one day have to consider it. In the meantime, when the noble Earl, Lord Howe, asks where they can go, I would only ask him whether we should go over again all the argument we had during the passage of the Road Traffic Act, on parking meters. I very much hope that cars will not come into London in such large numbers. When the new garages have been built—and they are being built—and when the existing car parks are full—and they are not full—and when the cars have been removed from outside the South side of Curzon Street and the West side of Montagu Square, I think that we may still need to have another look at this matter, as the noble Earl knows full well.
1028 The last point I want to deal with is the major one: will the scheme work? This is not a question of black and white, of one scheme that is infallible and another that cannot possibly work. Therefore, I do not argue on this point with the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, who said that his expert advice was that it will not work. I should like to point out that it is not correct to say that the Road Research Laboratory have not approved the proposed scheme. They were represented on the Working Party on whose Report the present scheme is based, and their representative signed that Report. Since then they have also favoured a four-lane underpass, rather than one providing two lanes only. With regard to the surface roundabout at Hyde Park Corner, the police, engineers of the Ministry of Transport and the London County Council have studied the traffic at this important centre over many years. A scheme of "channelisation" (as the horrible word is) with police control was in existence before the conversion to the existing layout in 1925, and the existing lay-out was a considerable improvement.
We have studied carefully the criticisms of the foreign experts and we respect them. We have compared our own conditions with the very different conditions in which that criticism was formed. A large number of experts have studied this problem for a great length of time. They may not have hit upon the perfect solution, but they have hit upon a solution which the Government are convinced will work. It may not be the Utopian solution. It may have one or two of the faults to which noble Lords have drawn attention, but I think that the time has come when we must make up our minds that something has to be done.
I concede the value of the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Conesford (I listened carefully to his speech), particularly that any encroachment upon the Royal Parks should be examined carefully. The noble Lord thinks that this is the thin edge of the wedge. The British Constitution is stuck full of wedges, which the common sense of the public has never yet driven home. I suggest that the noble Lord's fears will not be fulfilled. Indeed, I hope that his anxieties will prove false. I sympathise with the regret he has expressed at the loss of the trees—no Member of your Lordships' House has done anything else. But there is no 1029 other alternative that we can see. If we accede to the request of the noble Lord to reject this Bill, we go back to "Square 1", and nothing will be done for years and years.
Here at last we have a major scheme. The noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, asked how far ahead we were thinking. We are thinking as far ahead as we possibly can. That is why we have a four-lane underpass in the plan. We do not guarantee that the scheme will do everything that we expect of it, but I hope that it will. The experts advise us that it will. I beg your Lordships not to reject the scheme now. Here at last we have the chance not only of relieving the traffic congestion at Hyde Park Corner and Marble Arch but also of dealing, to some extent, with the problem that spreads right out to Alexandra Gate and Lancaster Gate. We have a chance of improving the amenities of Hyde Park Corner and Marble Arch and of relieving the whole circulation of traffic in this part of London. We have to pay the price of the encroachment on the Royal Parks and the loss of a number of trees. We deplore that bitterly, but this is a balance sheet, which we have had to
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Bill read 2a accordingly, and referred to a Select Committee.1030
§ weigh up carefully. Having listened to everything that has been said, and recognising that the weight of opinion has been chiefly on the side of the Bill, I have come to the conclusion that I can confidently advise noble Lords who love London, and who wish to see its amenities increased, the circulation of traffic improved and the benefits to its people enlarged, to give the Bill a Second Reading.
THE MARQUESS OF ABERDEEN AND, TEMAIR
My Lords, having been Chairman of the first Town Planning Committee of the London County Council, may I say that this Bill is an extremely important one and ought to receive the support of every noble Lord? I thank the noble Lord opposite for mentioning my name. This Bill is one of the most important from London's point of view. It will help to prevent so many of the accidents that now take place. I heartily support the Bill.
§ On Question, Whether the Bill shall be now read 2a?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents 38; Not-Contents, 4.1029
|Kilmuir, V. (L. Chancellor.)||Swinton, E.||Henderson, L.|
|Hailsham, V. (L. President.)||Alexander of Hillsborough,||Latham, L.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Lawson, L.|
|Aberdeen and Temair, M.||Colville of Culross, V||Mancroft, L.|
|Lansdowne, M. [Teller.]||Margesson, V.||Merthyr, L.|
|Albemarle, E.||Aberdare, L.||Pakenham, L.|
|Bathurst, E.||Ashton of Hyde, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Goaford, E.||Chesham, L. [Teller.]||Silkin, L.|
|Home, E.||Derwent, L.||Somers, L.|
|Howe, E.||Dynevor, L.||Teynham, L.|
|Morley, E.||Glyn, L.||Tweedsmuir, L.|
|Perth, E.||Greenhill, L.||Williams, L.|
|Dundee, E.||Conesford, L. [Teller.]||St. Oswald, L.|
|Gisborough, L. [Teller.]|