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Roab Traffic, Doncaster

Volume 487: debated on Wednesday 25 April 1951

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Mr. Popplewell.]

10.59 p.m.

It may well appear that the road traffic problems of one borough are of little importance compared with the grave political issues that now face the country. Yet I feel that it is altogether to the good that Parliament can so order its proceedings that the difficulties and the grievances of any one constituency may be ventilated and publicised here. I hope tonight that the Minister of Transport will give evidence that he is prepared to do all in his power to help the constituency of Doncaster, which I have the honour to represent, and solve a problem that it cannot possibly solve by itself or deal with from its own resources, nor indeed should it be asked to do so.

I believe that the Minister is well aware that the borough of Doncaster has a peculiar and very difficult traffic problem. The movement of traffic through its streets has for a long time constituted a great problem, and it grows steadily worse. The town is a thriving and prosperous industrial town, and has a population now something in excess of 80,000. Its proud industrial record is known throughout the north of England at least. It serves not only its own population but is the centre of a very great mining community outside its boundaries. Thousands of people pour into its busy streets for recreation, shopping and business. It is a great market town holding markets twice a week. Its business, market and streets are an indication of the size of the population it serves in South Yorkshire.

I suggest that the road problem in Doncaster, because of the very nature of its character, would be very serious, inasmuch as it is a market and industrial town combined, if only that fact had to be considered. The fact that many folk who are not inhabitants are very happily directed to it on market days and weekends would inevitably call for the most careful planning by those in charge of traffic. But the problem has been intensified, and rendered almost impossibly insoluble, by the fact that the Great North Road runs through the centre of the town. That very vital artery to the industrial North serves that area wonderfully well, but it is in all truth the greatest headache of all to Doncaster. To an already congested town is added this vast amount of heavy slow-moving traffic on its way through Doncaster. A very large percentage of this traffic from North to South, and vice versa, has no desire to stop. Its only concern is to get through as quickly as possible. That is the ambition, but the effect of this traffic on the centre of the town is, and has been for a considerable period, quite appalling.

A comparison of the traffic census for the years 1938 and 1950 reveals that the number of public service vehicles has increased by 78 per cent., the number of miscellaneous light vehicles by 36 per cent., and the number of heavy vehicles on the roads by 52 per cent. There is no doubt that the present congestion and the great inconvenience which is being suffered by the borough are largely due to the increase in the number of public service vehicles serving communities outside the borough area and the large increase in the heavy vehicles which cause delay, due to their length and slow acceleration after being held up by traffic lights and crossing lanes of traffic proceeding in the opposite direction. This problem of the heavy vehicles using the Great North Road must grow worse. It cannot remain as it is and it cannot grow better. But when we remember the plans for the further development of the South Yorkshire coalfield and industrial area, we can only conclude that this problem of the heavy vehicular traffic passing through Doncaster must become more serious.

Speculation on this increasingly serious problem has gone on for a very long time. Arguments have raged and negotiations have pursued their placid course, but one thing everybody admits—that the final solution is to construct a by-pass that will enable the Great North Road traffic to proceed on its way outside the borough. All other schemes must be palliatives. That is the final conclusion of every expert who for the past 20 years, so far as I know, has considered this problem.

It would be stupid to suggest that in existing circumstances this long-term plan of by-passing Doncaster can be proceeded with. Millions of pounds are involved and large amounts of labour, and our thoughts must be directed to that when the tensions of these difficult days have been eased and removed. But it cannot be left there. We cannot simply leave the problem to be solved in the next decade or so. Something of a short-term character must be done now, and my purpose tonight, in view of the admitted seriousness of the situation, is to see whether the Minister will personally intervene at this stage to ensure that some of the palliatives suggested can be brought into operation in the immediate future. I cannot urge too strongly the necessity for some early relief.

No useful purpose would be served at this hour by going into details about plans, because I suppose the Minister has them in his files. Many suggestions have been put forward; there are proposals that have been before his Department for some time. It is on those proposals that I ask him to arrive at conclusions in the immediate future. Such plans and proposals as are now being discussed by the Minister's officers involve considerable amounts of money, and while I know all the financial limitations that are imposed upon the Minister at this time, I beg him to give priority in the matter of grant, because the borough is bearing this burden to a great extent. The Great North Road cuts right through it and the through traffic thwarts and frustrates Doncaster's own local traffic. I ask if he can give some degree of priority to the acceptance of one of the schemes that have been submitted and to do what he can on the question of grant.

I have reason to believe that the Minister is sympathetic towards Doncaster and, from a very careful survey I have made of the correspondence that has passed between his Department and the borough council, it would appear that his officers also fully recognise the character and the peculiarity of some of these grave difficulties. I think I ought to say that in one of the letters from his Department the seriousness of the situation is immediately acknowledged, but it goes on to say that, of couse, these problems are not peculiar to Doncaster and that they are present elsewhere, and that serious problems also exist in London. That does not help us a great deal, and I hope there will be some different approach and that the Minister will say that he intends to do what he can for us.

When the writer of the letter suggests that the same remedies might be applied to Doncaster as have been applied to certain parts of London, it would appear that he does not really understand the peculiar nature of our traffic problems in Doncaster. Here we have a great, thriving industrial town, where there must be a substantial amount of heavy traffic serving the local industries. At the same time, it is a great market town serving a vast population outside the borough; in it are held several of the greatest markets in South Yorkshire running almost 50 yards off the North Road; and it is a great sporting centre, with a race course to which great crowds are attracted. There, through it all and the main thoroughfare of that borough, is the Great North Road and all that that means.

I ask the Minister to consider carefully these grave difficulties of Doncaster which, if I may say so with great respect, cannot be compared with the difficulties in places like London, serious though their problems may be. Here we have a small area, congested and condensed in itself, upon which is imposed this heavy vehicular traffic which passes along the Great North Road. I understand the Minister's difficulties and I am fully aware that the present schemes that have been submitted by the Council of Doncaster do involve lots of money. Perhaps it is not within the power of the Minister to act immediately, but I feel that there is a case to be made for priority to be given to Doncaster, because it is quite unfair that the people there should be faced by this traffic problem, which does not arise from their own domestic problems but from the traffic which flows through the town.

I ask the Minister—and I think he will be sympathetic—to give some degree of priority to Doncaster and to draw to a conclusion these very long negotiations, thus showing that he understands the practical realities of the situation. I assure him that those in charge of these problems are really at their wit's end to know what to do on market days and holidays, when almost unbelievable delays take place to traffic passing through the town. I believe the Minister will view this case with sympathy. All I ask him is to translate that sympathy into immediate action and see what he can do to relieve us of this great problem.

11.14 p.m.

I am very much obliged to my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Gunter), for the very reasonable and temperate way in which he has pleaded his case. No one appreciates more than I do the intense irritation it must present to any city of the character of Doncaster when one of our great main arteries runs through the centre of the town and a great volume of traffic which is in no way connected with the life of the city passes along it. Nevertheless, it represents and presents a very perplexing and difficult problem for those who are responsible for the conduct of its traffic arrangements.

I frankly admit that Doncaster represents a special problem. Anyone who has travelled along the Great North Road and has tried to get through Doncaster will fully appreciate the problem. After a long run, the motorist is precipitated into this bottleneck which, as my hon. Friend has indicated, is one of the main shopping streets of the city. The difficulty is to find alternative routes through the city. My hon. Friend has recognised that the long-term policy my Department have in view is not a practical one at the moment in view of the financial and economic difficulties, which have been intensified by the defence programme arising from the international situation. We hope to solve this problem ultimately by the construction of the London-Yorkshire motorway, but at the present moment that scheme is remote.

My hon. Friend referred to correspondence which compared the problem of Doncaster with the traffic problem in London and other great industrial cities. I do not think that was mentioned from the point of view of relieving the Ministry of Transport of their responsibilities, but there is no doubt that in the present financial position we are more and more directing the attention of highway authorities to ameliorative measures. As my hon. Friend is aware, for some time a number of these ameliorative measures have been tried out in London. Because of the special conditions of traffic congestion in London, that does not contribute to a solution of Doncaster's difficulty, although the experience gained in these experiments is of general value.

Knowing that the proposed motorway is out of the question, the Doncaster City Council have directed their attention to finding alternative traffic routes to take through traffic away from this main shopping street. Differences have developed between my Department and Doncaster City Council over their suggestions. In our view, their first proposal for an alternative route was much too wide of the city. We draw upon our experience in different parts of the country of the effect of alternative traffic routes that are too far-flung, and general experience teaches us that if it means too great a detour, the traffic just will not use it, and we spend money and effort without in any way contributing to the solution of the problem. Without any undertaking with regard to financial contribution, because that is governed year by year by the Vote which Parliament grants to me, my engineers have discussed with Doncaster City Council the possibilities of finding a much nearer relief route which might contribute towards this difficult problem.

Here I should like to acknowledge the very fine work which the late borough surveyor of Doncaster contributed in this direction. In my view, the city suffered a very great loss when he unfortunately passed away. Nevertheless, his work remains, and the Council have now prepared a scheme to relieve the High Street and Hall Gate of north-bound traffic by diversions to a close relief line. It appears to me that with their proposal which is now being discussed we are getting nearer to the type of scheme which might be considered and carried through by sections, according to financial circumstances.

I want to make it clear that it is wise, both for my Department and the Council, to proceed with the examination of these schemes, but I want to make it very plain that in say that, I am not in a position at the moment to give any undertaking with regard to financial assistance. Nevertheless, even if one cannot give an undertaking at the moment regarding financial assistance, there is great advantage in the local authority and my Department agreeing upon a scheme, because if financial circumstances should improve no time will be wasted.

If I may draw on past experience I would say, in many instances—and particularly when one considers the experience of road finance in this country—opportunities have been lost because when financial conditions were favourable proposals were not ready to be carried out. Therefore, my policy with regard to this proposal and many others is that if we cannot carry them out today, at least they should be prepared, so that they shall be ready if and when financial circumstances permit.

Wherever we have a crowded city of this character any relief road presents major problems, and the one to which we are now directing our attention is no exception to the rule. I think my hon. Friend knows that one major difficulty in this present scheme is that bottle-neck at the northern end where there is a trolley bus station. We often come up against problems of that kind, and consideration of that problem may raise the question, which is raised in many of our cities at the moment, whether the trolley vehicle is suitable for modern conditions. That will probably raise the question whether they should be replaced ultimately by petrol buses.

I want to give my hon. Friend this general assurance. Of course, I am sympathetic and anxious to help. That is the purpose of my Department. But all I can promise at the moment is that we shall facilitate in every way we can the working out of these relief schemes, and then when they are worked out the problem of financial assistance will arise. I readily recognise that the Council itself will not be able to proceed with any of these proposals until that issue is settled. My hon. Friend, in his own statement tonight, has clearly recognised that at the present moment the Government must have the full endorsement of the House in these matters of expenditure. I do not think it has been questioned in any part of the House that expenditure on roads must be strictly limited because of defence and other national needs. Until the financial position eases, I am unable to commit myself in any particular area to an expenditure of this sort. If in the meantime we work out reasonable proposals, we can only hope that by the time these schemes are getting to completion, conditions will be favourable for financial help.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-six Minutes past Eleven o'Clock.