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Great North Road, Gosforth

Volume 645: debated on Monday 24 July 1961

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

10.11 p.m.

I asked for the Adjournment tonight to find out exactly how my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary uses his responsibility to control traffic and to protect pedestrians in what is generally referred 10 as the village of Gosforth, in Northumberland, but which is not a village at all, but a very big and developing area of residential property and shops lying outside Newcastle-on-Tyne, on the Great North Road—A.1—for which my hon. Friend's Ministry is responsible.

I have been fighting a battle with my hon. Friend on behalf of the residents of Gosforth for many years, but I have made very little progress except in one direction, in respect of which I should like to congratulate him before moving on to my main objections. When I raised the question of the danger to pedestrians in Gosforth my hon. Friend met me in one small direction, at Moor Road, where the traffic coming from the South to the North used to rush down at a fairly high speed, so that residents living close to Moor Road felt in danger of their lives when they tried to get across the Great North Road.

My hon. Friend found it convenient to erect a refuge in the centre of the road and to make some very good alterations for the access of traffic from Moor Road into the Great North Road. I thank him for that action and for the very effective way in which it was carried out. Everybody was very pleased about it. But if I had not made out my case that a problem exists with regard to traffic approaching and going through Gosforth I doubt whether my hon. Friend would have carried out those alterations.

Since Gosforth is not in my constituency I ought to say that I live there, and have done so since I was very young—and that was a few years ago. I live very close to the Great North Road, and therefore see what happens both to the traffic and to pedestrians. As I am a very old resident of Gosforth I am in close consultation with the police, who have always been as co-operative as it is within their power to be, and I know many residents who, whenever I find myself in Gosforth, consult me about the traffic problem.

Gosforth is a very old village, and the main Great North Road there, which is really its High Street, was never designed to carry modern traffic. I realise that it presents my hon. Friend with a very great difficulty when he tries to consider the interests both of maintaining the flow of traffic and of protecting pedestrians. But I am a motorist, a pedestrian and a magistrate.

I have examined this problem as closely as I possibly can, and I have come to the conclusion, with very great regret, that my hon. Friend is much more concerned with keeping the traffic going through Gosforth at a high speed, which it is not entitled to do, and is not paying enough attention to pedestrians. I am entitled to say—and I say it with the full co-operation of most of the residents of Gosforth—that old people go in terror of their lives and that the parents of young children are always in dread when they have to cross the High Street.

A friend of mine, whose young daughter had been going to a school on the opposite side of the High Street to where the family live, and who is now 11 and going to a boarding school, told me that he had never allowed her to cross the North Road because he considered it to be so dangerous.

A number of points have been raised about this. There are traffic lights at the exit from Gosforth and in the centre of Gosforth we have a controlled pedestrian crossing. There are moments when it is reasonably safe to cross the main portion of the High Street, because a policeman is on duty, and there are times when the lights control and when for a moment the roar of traffic ceases. There have been many unpleasant accidents there.

There is no control over the pedestrian crossing which lies in what is called the prone accident area, and this is the area about which I am speaking. The access from Elmfield Road onto Gosforth High Street presents a particular problem. Parents and children are terrified about it. I have spoken about this to my friends in the police force and to the chief constable of the county, and there is no disagreement that this pedestrian crossing ought to be controlled. The police of the county tell me that they have not sufficient police to control the crossing and that there is nothing they can do about it, much as they would like to. What other alternatives can be found?

There is a small shop on one side of the pedestrian crossing, and I have talked to the owner, who regards his shop as a sort of emergency Red Cross post. People have been taken to that shop and found to be suffering from shock and anxiety neurosis. Everyone in the village knows about the shop and the services rendered by the proprietor. But nothing seems to make any impression upon my hon. Friend, who says, with truth, that the street is too narrow for the provision of a refuge and that there is nothing which can be done. My hon. Friend does not seem to be aware that traffic rushing through Gosforth village often exceeds 30 miles an hour. I have never been able to get a check on the speed because two local authorities, Gosforth and Newcastle, are involved and there never seems to be a policeman available to check the traffic.

I have come to the conclusion that the population of Gosforth is right in thinking that Parliament in general and my hon. Friend in particular do not care whether pedestrians are run down and whether it is impossible for children to get to school with safety. People there have reached the end of their tether. I am not certain even that what is suggested by Gosforth village is a good scheme, but something must be done.

We have asked for traffic lights to be installed at the bottom of Elmfield Road to control the traffic coming from that road on to the Great North Road. That would have some effect in controlling the pedestrian crossing and people would have an opportunity, at any rate, to get half-way across the road, even though it may be impossible to control the traffic coming in the other direction. The population of Gosforth think that the only solution. It has been resisted by my hon. Friend who has had various inquiries made and investigations carried out. He seems to think that traffic lights exist only to deal with cross sections of roads where heavy traffic is involved and he does not appear to think that we ought to use traffic lights for other purposes.

I am not criticising his Department, but the other day I had an amusing telephone conversation. When I gave notice of the subject of this Adjournment debate the Department telephoned to ask whether there was anything to which I especially wished to draw the attention of the Minister. I could not help laughing because I have been drawing his attention to this problem for the last five years or more, and I did the same to his predecessor.

I mentioned during the conversation that once we had a road safety week at Gosforth. Suddenly one morning when I emerged into the High Street I found that there were a lot of little plaques on sticks bearing the statement that it was an accident-prone area. These plaques were there for a week. That was the only time such a thing has happened from 1950 until 1962. The charming gentleman on the telephone wanted to know whether the presence of these plaques did any good. We had twelve little plaques on twelve little sticks for one week in twelve years and no one really knew what they were for. I did not know and I had to ring up to find out what it all meant. I was told that it was part of a road safety week.

What is the use of having road safety committees, which do a great deal of helpful work in an endeavour to deal with the terrible traffic problem, if their recommendations are ignored and all the Minister says is that nothing can be done?

The only thing that has been suggested is that the whole centre of Gosforth should be moved. That would cost some millions of pounds and I am sure that I shall be dead before it happens. In the meantime, the old people will have passed on and the young people will be old, but that does not seem to be of any interest to my hon. Friend. Nothing else happens; nothing else can be done. The suggestion has been made that the 30 m.p.h. speed limit governing Gosforth comes from the other side of the River Tyne—-the other side of Gateshead, seven or eight miles away, with the great River Tyne between. It is said that because the 30 miles speed limit is maintained right through Newcastle and up to Gosforth the Minister is to try to negotiate with Newcastle Corporation to decontrol the road. I think that a good idea. It should have been done a long time ago. The Great North Road should have a 40 m.p.h. speed limit.

Then it would be possible to put up a plaque notifying motorists entering Gosforth that there was a 30 m.p.h. speed limit there. If motorists on entering Gosforth cannot see that it is a busy shopping centre with hundreds of pedestrians all over the place, with schools and a growing energetic population, without the necessity for plaques to announce a 30 m.p.h. speed limit, I do not think that they should have been passed through the test. The Minister sets great store by this and it is the only thing he has been able to suggest.

I and many others who have regarded the problem of traffic on the Great North Road for a long time have been asking Newcastle to decontrol what is known as Cowhill, which is a great moor where there is no traffic at all, but the Minister has refused permission for that. The Minister has been discussing with Newcastle Corporation the question of de-restricting the Great North Road from 30 m.p.h. to 40 m.p.h. since 1960. The whole position is intolerable.

I want to make another point about the At Clayton Road, which is within the County Borough of Newcastle, there is a light allowing traffic to emerge from Clayton Road to the Great North Road, but there is very little traffic at that point. I have asked my hon. Friend to do a traffic check there, but all Ministers of the Crown, when they do not want to answer questions, write letters. This Minister is very polished in the way in which he writes letters. He is one of the most polished of Ministers, but he never refers to the question.

There are parks on both sides of that road, but not far from Clayton Road junction there are two big schools. I am sure it is important to have a light there, but the situation at the entrance to the Great North Road, where there is traffic light control, is nothing like so serious. There could be a proper refuge in the middle of the road. It is much wider and there is not nearly the amount of traffic or houses there, while on both sides of the road there are parks and no shops. The other day the Minister told me in his letter that that light had been in operation for forty years and that was that. If it has been in operation for forty years and there was not the same amount of traffic at that time, it is about time the position in Gosforth was properly dealt with.

I shall not say anything more tonight because I want my hon. Friend to reply. I remind him that everyone in Gosforth wants to know whether the Minister is interested in the lives of pedestrians, in the lives of the young and in the lives of the old. They want to know what he is going to do to make life a little happier and more certain for those who live in the village of Gosforth.

10.30 p.m.

The hon. Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) has spoken at such length that she has left little opportunity for either the hon. Member who represents Gosforth—who also represents Wallsend—or the Parliamentary Secretary to say much in this debate. It would seem that she would like to control the Gosforth Council, and would also like to tell the council and the Minister just what they should do, and where they have gone wrong in doing what has been done.

Gosforth is on the Great North Road, there is a great amount of traffic, and the shopping centre there has the same problem as that which faces the shopping centre at Wallsend. In both places the traffic has greatly increased and the danger has increased proportionately, but the hon. Lady should remember that such problems take a good deal of time to solve satisfactorily.

There is no doubt that the Gosforth Council has been watching the traffic difficulties throughout and, together with the Northumberland County Council, which also has its responsibilities in Gosforth, it has done a good job. On one occasion there was a long article in the Newcastle Evening Chronicle about what was described as one of the death traps in Gosforth. We tried to get the situation remedied. At the point in question, five roads converge and the county council pointed out the difficulty of putting up traffic lights. Nevertheless, once the matter had been put to the county council, traffic lights were put there.

A number of other things have been done in Gosforth. I interviewed transport officials on the whole question of regulating the traffic from Newcastle into Gosforth and asked them to get the speed of vehicles entering the town reduced. Shortly after that interview, notices were put up but, according to the newspaper article, the only person dealing with the matter seemed to be the hon. Member for Tynemouth and not the council or the county council.

Gosforth is certainly one of the bad traffic spots in Northumberland, but there is no doubt that as soon as the Ministry permits, the council will do all it can as quickly as possible. A plan was formulated to deal with the traffic problem, but even that did not suit the hon. Lady. Nevertheless, the whole matter is being considered, and all we ask is that the Minister will make a big effort to get the whole thing cleared up. To my mind the whole thing will be cleared up only when the county council and Gosforth and the Minister of Transport have put their minds to the plan, and resolved it shall be carried out as quickly as possible. I hope they do.

10.35 p.m.

I am sorry that time is now very short and I cannot, as I would have wished to have done, explain in some detail what we see the problems of Gosforth traffic to be and the things we have in mind to do.

I can briefly say this. It is quite incorrect to imply, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) did, that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and my Department have no particular interest in the safety of pedestrians in this place. That is quite inaccurate. We always have to fight in places like Gosforth a constant battle between the needs of through traffic, which are considerable—this is a main traffic artery we are talking about, the Great North Road, the A.1—and the needs of pedestrians and the people who live there and want to cross the road to get to shops and their businesses and so on. Our object is to try somehow to balance these two conflicting claims.

To put the matter in some perspective I must point out that over this stretch of just under one mile we have a 40 ft. carriageway; we have unilateral waiting—the prohibition of waiting on one side of the road—and two sets of traffic light signals and three sets of pedestrian crossings. The conditions are not unique because there are many other places up and down the country that are very similar. If I may say so, there is nothing special about Gosforth which makes is so very different, either in its accident record, which is by no means bad—I have the figures here and should have liked to have had time to quote them—or in the problem itself.

As for the speed, this being a main road it is natural for traffic to wish to push along as quickly as it can, and the trouble with the north-bound traffic, as my hon. Friend said, is that it crosses the Newcastle Town Moor which is an open space with virtually no buildings and there is a natural temptation on motorists to speed up. What we are trying to do now is to persuade Newcastle City Council to put a 40 mile an hour speed limit on this stretch of the Town Moor, which at the moment is subject to a 30 mile an hour limit. That will have two effects. It will be a much more realistic speed limit, and secondly, it will enable us to put a 30 mile an hour sign at the entrance to Gosforth. We have twice pressed this on the council and it has on two occasions deferred a decision. Its next meeting is on 17th August, and I hone this continued delay will not go on. If it does, I think that my right hon. Friend will have to consider what other action to take.

As to the traffic lights at Elmfield Road, we never like putting traffic lights on a main traffic route because they are very often more dangerous than safe. There are already traffic lights at the Blue House junction and the Salters Road junction to the north. These break up the flow of traffic and provide opportunities for pedestrians to cross. I think the trouble is really that a lot of traffic coming in from the west by-passes the Salters Road signals by coming down Elmfield Road.

I can tell my hon. Friend briefly what we are willing to do. As an experiment for a trial period we are going to put some temporary central refuges in the High Street at the mouth of the Elmfield Road junction. We shall monitor the experiment to see to what extent it causes difficulties. This is a 40 feet carriageway and normally we do not put pedestrian refuges where the road is only 40 feet wide.

The second thing we propose to do is to put a central refuge in the mouth of Elmfield Road itself, which will enable pedestrians to cross the road and make for orderly vehicle movement. Thirdly, there is a pedestrian crossing just north of Elmfield Road and we propose to move it further south to a position closer to Elmfield Road, to the point where the northernmost of the two temporary refuges to which I have just referred will be placed. We will try that.

I ask my hon. Friend to accept that this is an earnest of our wish to try to help in these cases, if we can; but we cannot turn some of our main roads into paradises for pedestrians without causing great difficulty, and even danger, to the through traffic which must use them.

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at nineteen minutes to Eleven o'clock.