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Roads, Merioneth

Volume 524: debated on Wednesday 3 March 1954

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. Kaberry.]

10.10 p.m.

I am not unmindful of the fact that the subject of roads was debated in this House only a fortnight ago. I make no apology, however, for raising the same subject tonight in relation to Merionethshire, as I am convinced—and I hope that I shall convince the Government— that Merionethshire has road problems not known to many counties in the whole of the United Kingdom. I hasten to add that these problems are not due, of course, to any complacency or lassitude on the part of the county council. On the contrary, the files of the various Government Departments will readily reveal that the Merioneth County Council is among the most advanced and most active in the country. Merioneth is a large county of about 422,000 acres, the main industries of which are agriculture, slate quarrying and tourism. The product of a 1d. rate is only £598. I wish particularly to stress that fact as it will have a great bearing on all that I am about to say. The county council's problems can be readily appreciated if I simply give a table of the county's mileages of roads. These are as follows—trunk roads, 104 miles. Class I roads 72 miles, Class II roads 84, Class III roads 296, and unclassified roads 355 miles. Five main trunk roads pass through the county. They are the A.407. A.494, A.5, A.4108 and A.458. Altogether 104 miles of trunk roads pass through the county.

These roads, of course, were not constructed primarily in the interest of Merionethshire. Their main purpose is to carry through-traffic to the neighbouring counties. Indeed, the Dolwyddelan— Blaenau Ffestiniog—Cross Foxes—Dinas Mawddwy road is part of the North to South Wales trunk road which carries the bulk of traffic between those two parts of the Principality.

I must draw the Minister's attention to a singular aspect of the road problem in Merioneth. There is a large, permanent military camp and anti-aircraft range at Tonfannau, near Towyn, together with a permanent camp and field artillery range at Trawsfynydd. Territorial Army units visit both these camps during the summer months from the middle of May to the middle of October, and there are generally about four Territorial Army regiments at Tonfannau at the same time doing a fortnight's training. These regiments bring in and take out their heavy equipment by road, with the result that at week-ends the roads leading into and out of the county are very heavily trafficked by military vehicles.

The county council would like to improve the condition of trunk roads so that congestion of through-traffic would be eased within the county; and the county itself, as the main portion of the Snowdonia National Park, would be more accessible to the tourist traffic from the Midlands and Merseyside. The council also wishes to make the roads safer for the travelling public.

Time will not allow me to give all the examples of improvements which are desired. I must, however, mention two or three. The Minister will be very well acquainted, through correspondence, with Oakley Drive in Merioneth, which forms part of A.487. This section is about two miles long. In most places the carriageway width is only 13 feet to 14 feet. This road is heavily trafficked by commercial, military and holiday traffic. It is also one of the main bus routes, yet only at a few places is it possible for two large vehicles to pass one another. This causes great delay and congestion.

On the Dolgelly to Bala road there are several bad blind corners and weak retention banks. There is the Llanelltyd Bridge on A.487. This bridge is extremely narrow and causes a bottleneck on the trunk road. The council would like to replace that bridge. It dare not pull it down because it is an ancient monument. The council would also like to deal with several bad corners on the approaches to the bridge.

I wish to say a few words about classified roads such as the Dolgelly-Barmouth-Harlech and the Dolgelly-Fairbourne-Towyn-Aberdovey roads which carry heavy traffic in the summer from the trunk roads to county's coastal resorts. These roads are extremely narrow in parts, and it is a daily occurrence in the summer for it to be absolutely impossible for motor coaches and 'buses to pass one another. It is not unusual for 150 tourist coaches to pass along this road in the period of one hour. These coaches meet traffic going to the coast and the position becomes simply chaotic.

Class II and Class III roads are even more important for visitors to the National Park, and also serve the agricultural community. These roads are being used more and more by heavy lorries carrying fertilisers and other commodities to the hillside farms, agricultural tractors and other implements and livestock lorries.

Having dealt with the classified roads, I must remind the Minister that he has approved of only two schemes for the coming year amounting to less than £10,000. I hope that this sum of money will not be regarded as the ceiling for coming years, otherwise Merioneth is doomed. As the Minister well knows, one mile of road in Merioneth cost no less than £89,000. That means that for the distance between the Minister and myself £350 was spent. It may not be worth spending that sum even on separating us, but if £10,000 were to be the ceiling it would take nine years to construct that length of road alone. It is a blessing that that road is an exception, and that £10,000 is not the ceiling, otherwise, with 452 classified roads, 4,000 years would be taken to complete our scheme. Probably we shall have a change of Government in the meantime or the Minister will have gone to another place.

There remain for consideration the unclassified and the unadopted roads. It is an extraordinary fact that in Merioneth we have 350 miles of unclassified roads, apart from unadopted roads. The county council feels it would be better able to improve these unclassified roads if a proportion of them were upgraded to Class III roads, and I would impress that request upon the Minister, Nowadays much use is made of these unclassified roads by vehicles, including milk lorries, and in the future they will be used a great deal more by tourists now that Merioneth forms the largest portion of the National Park.

There are also miles of unadopted roads for which no one is responsible. In view of the fact that we are asking agriculturists to increase their production at such a rapid rate, I ask what can be done to the roads in Merioneth to assist their efforts. The roads of Merioneth present difficulties not experienced in any other county. Many miles are supported by retaining banks or walls, and when improvement schemes are carried out either new retaining walls have to be built or the rock has to be hewn from the opposite side of the road, with a resulting cost, as I have stated, of £89,000 for one mile of road. I understand that the Merioneth County Council is anxious that the Minister should receive a deputation from the highways committee, and I hope that he will agree to do so.

The repair and maintenance of roads in large rural counties where the product of a Id. rate is low, is becoming more burdensome and difficult year by year. I know that I have the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House in that contention. How can the authority in Merioneth, where the rate is already painfully heavy, embark on schemes which are necessary and which it wishes to undertake? It is simply beyond the wit of the county surveyor, the road engineers and the highways committee to do the work as they would desire. I would refer the Minister to the second Memorandum produced by the Council for Wales and Monmouthshire, where the problem is carefully analysed.

I appeal to the Minister and to the Government to look again at the entire problem and to formulate constructive proposals whereby rural areas with difficult terrain, of which my constituency is a first-rate example, may be assisted to get on with the job.

10.23 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation
(Mr. Hugh Molson)

I am sure that the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. T. W. Jones) has the complete sympathy of the House in the strong plea he has made on behalf of the picturesque and delightful county which he represents. I hope he will agree that in considering what can be done for the county of Merioneth it is necessary for us to bear in mind what is being done for the Principality of Wales as a whole.

I hope that hon. Gentlemen representing Welsh constituencies will agree that when, on 8th December last, my right hon. Friend anaounced the large programme of new construction and the large-scale improvements the Principality obtained its fair share. They will remember the protest made by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) on behalf of England. He was of opinion that the Principality of Wales and the Kingdom of Scotland had obtained more than their fair share. I do not necessarily associate myself with what he said, but at any rate I think that Welsh Members will agree that a very substantial proportion of the money available has been devoted to Wales, whether the money is actually spent in Wales or to improve access to Wales from the English industrial areas.

In that programme the Government made it plain that at present they are trying to give priority to industrial needs. Priority for any cause necessarily and unfortunately means a lower degree of priority for other causes. The hon. Gentleman pointed out that the chief industries of Merionethshire are agriculture and tourism. I am afraid that at present we cannot give any priority to tourism which we regard as an amenity.

The hon. Member has referred to the disadvantages which Merioneth suffers. I wish to draw attention to the advantages which it enjoys. For a rural county of that kind it is remarkable that there are no fewer than 104 miles of trunk roads, 453 miles of classified roads and only 421 miles of unclassified roads. It is not always remembered that the exchequer equalisation grant takes into account the mileage of roads in any given area. I am advised that of the expenditure upon unclassified roads, no less than 60 per cent, is provided by the Exchequer. When we add Road Fund grants, for class III roads the contribution of the Exchequer is 80 per cent., for class II roads it is 84 per cent, and for class I roads it is 90 per cent., whereas for trunk roads it is 100 per cent.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the position about classified roads. Merioneth has done extremely well on maintenance during the five years from 1950–51 to the estimates for 1954–55. It has asked for £348,000 and has had allocated to it £337,000. I do not think that there are many counties in the United Kingdom in that happy position.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to unclassified and unadopted roads. It seemed to me that he was suggesting that the Government were not proposing to do anything to help Merioneth improve these roads which, we all recognise, are of tremendous importance for the agricultural community. I would ask him to look at paragraph 33 of the White Paper on Rural Wales. There he will find these words:
"The Government agree, however, that there is need for some ad hoc assistance to be provided for the improvement of unclassified and unadopted roads in livestock rearing areas….
I think Merioneth is pre-eminently a livestock rearing county—
"…where the improvement would materially assist the economy of farms otherwise satisfactory, or in process of any necessary reorganisation. They will, accordingly, make proposals to Parliament, when opportunity offers, for enabling the Ministry of Agriculture to contribute towards the cost of improving such roads, on the condition that any unadopted road so improved would become the responsibility of the highway authority after improvement.
I have dealt with these different categories of roads in order to show what I think is the case, that, taking a broad view of the matter, the county of Merioneth, apart from the natural geographical difficulties from which it suffers, which is, after all, the penalty that it has to pay for its delightful and romantic scenery, has, in fact, received a fair contribution from national funds.

The hon. Gentleman raised three cases in particular. I should like to express my gratitude to him for having given me notice of these matters so that I might obtain some information about them from my Department.

He spoke, first, about Oakley Drive, which is on A487. This is a road where a good deal of improvement has already been carried out. There has been widening of this section of the road in the last few years, and six passing places have been constructed. I frankly recognise that it would improve conditions on the road if we were able to increase the number of places where the road has been widened, and we are seeing what can be done in this matter, but I am not in a position tonight to give any undertaking as to exactly when it will be done.

The argument that the hon. Gentleman advanced to emphasise the difficulties under which the county council labours is also a reason why the Ministry of Transport, with only limited resources available, finds it difficult to carry out the large-scale improvements that he is asking for. The widening of this section of the road is certainly desirable, but it would mean extensive rock excavation, because Oakley Drive runs across sloping ground. This would cost about £110,000, which is more than we have available at present.

In the second place, the hon. Gentleman referred to Dolgelly, where there was, unfortunately, a fatal accident not long ago when a military vehicle drove over the side of the narrow road. Action has been taken to remedy the immediate danger. We shall authorise the acquisition of land to enable further improvements to be carried out, although, again, it is not possible for me to promise when work can actually be begun.

It is with regard to the third case, the Llanelltyd Bridge, on A487, that it is not possible for me to give quite so satisfactory a reply. This bridge must not be widened because it is an ancient monument. It can be and will be strengthened, but it would not be justifiable at present to incur the very great expense of building a new bridge.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel that we approach the problems of Merioneth with genuine sympathy. We have done a great deal for the Principality and, on a modest scale, we are continuing to deal with the problems which he has raised. I hope he will not be unduly disappointed if we are not able to carry out the large-scale improvements which I know he and the county would like to see.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-four Minutes to Eleven o'Clock.