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North Orbital Road

Volume 720: debated on Tuesday 16 November 1965

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

12.12 a.m.

A great road was to be built around London, a ring road north and south of the river, a circular road with London at the centre and 20 miles from the circumference. It is about the north part of that road, and more precisely about the beginning of the northern part covering a projected area from Purfleet to the district of Brentwood, that I shall speak.

The decision to make this road was, in the opinion of all the interested parties official, definite and final. The Minister of Transport himself said so. This is what the Minister said to an important deputation representing 11 county councils:
"The North and South Orbital Roads would receive first priority and the route had been generally approved … to make a complete encirclement of the area so as to link with the Dartford— Purfleet Tunnel ".
He said "first priority" and "route approved". The Minister of Transport was Mr. Alfred Barnes and the date was 11th December, 1945. Today, 20 years later, one might ask certain questions. One might ask, what do the words "first priority" mean? What is a Minister's word worth? What notice during all those years has been taken of the wishes of 11 county councils? Why has a greater effort not been made to regulate traffic in one of the most heavily traffic congested areas in the world? Twenty years ago it was said that the building of a North Orbital Road was essential. It is 100 times more urgent today. The Dartford— Purfleet tunnel is now open and is in use. The purpose of this road, beginning at the tunnel, was to carry traffic to and from the North and to and from the East— to and from places in the North, like Edinburgh, Carlisle, Newcastle and Hull, and places in East Anglia like Norwich, Harwich and King's Lynn.

All this traffic on its journey from Purfleet towards Brentwood and beyond still uses the same two narrow, winding roads that were already overloaded before the tunnel was built. I refer to the two roads from Purfleet, one passing through Orsett and the other passing through Stifford and South Ockendon. These two roads were overcrowded before the tunnel was built, and the traffic has now increased almost unbearably and is increasing every day.

In April of this year a traffic survey of these two roads was made by the engineer and surveyor of the Thurrock Urban District Council. It was a most thorough survey, and a most interesting and alarming report was produced. It shows how many vehicles used these two roads during a period of 15 hours, what sort of vehicles they were, and how many of them were travelling from the Dartford-Purfleet tunnel area to Brentwood and beyond. I have sent these figures to the Parliamentary Secretary, and I will not, therefore, analyse them tonight. I trust, however, that he and his advisers will consider them carefully. All I wish to do tonight is to draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the enormous number of these vehicles which use these two roads coming from Purfleet, and which would leave these narrow winding roads if the north orbital road were in existence for them to use.

I am aware that some improvements are being made to these two roads. One of them, the A.128, is being widened with the help of a grant from the Ministry. Minor improvements are being made on the other, the B.186. But these improvements, even if they were far more extensive than they are, would not solve the problem. They would hardly touch it. The problem can only be solved if the North Orbital Road is built. The traffic, bad as it is now, is increasing every day.

Perhaps I shall be told that the time is not appropriate to spend all this money. We are always told that. I think that the time is most appropriate. I do not think the time could be more appropriate than it is at the moment. The Government are crying aloud for more and more exports. Complaints are made every day about delays and hold-ups in the traffic to the docks. Of course, there are delays and hold-ups when the traffic coming from the North and the east of England on its way to the ports in the South has to pass through crowded central London and is then transferred to minor roads which were never intended to cope with such traffic.

By the way, when we speak about the approaches to the docks— this is not my subject for debate tonight, but I mention it in passing— I think the Minister ought to take a very close look at all the roads to Tilbury Docks. They really are in a bad state, and this accounts for the numerous delays-to traffic coming to and from the docks at Tilbury.

The plea which I make tonight is not one of a Member of Parliament asking for a road improvement in his constituency. My constituency is seriously concerned, but the North Orbital Road is also the concern of the entire country. A great deal of our economy and much of our exports depend upon it. I therefore ask in the interest of the whole nation that this road be started forthwith.

The then Minister of Transport said 20 years ago that this was a first priority. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will remember that a dear friend of ours, Aneurin Bevan, once made the impromptu remark that Socialism was the language of prorities, and he always urged us to get our priorities right. I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees. In fact the art of government is getting things in their proper order. If the building of this road was a priority 20 years ago it is, if that is possible, more of a priority now. If, as I am sure he must, my hon. Friend agrees with that, surely he will call upon his Ministry at once to give top priority to building it without delay.

12.21 a.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport
(Mr. Stephen Swingler)

After the display of organised hypocrisy which we saw on the Opposition benches earlier today, it has been a pleasure to listen to the forthright case put by my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy), not only as he says on behalf of those whom he represents but also a wider public in the south of the country who are concerned with the North Orbital Road.

I should like to thank my hon. Friend on two accounts. The excursions which I make in these Adjournment debates are a tremendous education in geography. In the course of these in the last twelve months we had not so far visited Thur-rock. It has now been a pleasure to do so. I thank him also for giving me in advance full notice of the points which he intended to raise. I know that it will be difficult for me to fulfil his expectations. I hope that he will recognise that my reply is realistic, though I can scarcely hope to give him and those whom he represents complete satisfaction. The plan for the North Orbital Road which we are discussing has been with us for a good 20 years. My hon. Friend quoted from our old friend Alfred Barnes. He certainly represented the thinking at that time. Since then there have been many changes in the conception of priorities and in the surveying of needs in those areas. The scheme of the North Orbital Road is the outermost of five ring roads originally brought forward in the Aber-crombie Plan for Greater London. The route runs from the Staines by-pass in the west to the junction of the A. 13 and the Dartford-Purfleet tunnel approach road in the east—the end with which my hon. Friend is concerned.

This road would have two main functions. It would, first, act as a connecting link between trunk routes radiating from London. But in this function we recognise today that it has a serious rival in the "D" ring road, the next ring in towards London, which would do exactly the same job possibly more effectively simply because it is closer to London. Second, particular sections of the North Orbital would serve particular local purposes, mainly as by-passes of densely populated residential areas near which it would pass.

It is very natural, therefore, that my hon. Friend is pressing me tonight for early construction of a particular section for a local purpose of great importance to him and his constituents, that is the relief of two roads at present used by traffic between the Dartford-Purfleet tunnel and the Brentwood area.

My hon. Friend has put to me some traffic figures for vehicles on the A. 128 and the B.186 and we accept those figures. Broadly, they show that something short of 4,000 passenger car units of traffic a day would transfer from them to this particular section of the North Orbital Road if it were built. But we have to consider that the design capacity of the North Orbital, which would, of course, be a dual carriageway, would be for at least 25,000 passenger car units per day. Therefore, I think that it must be agreed that the traffic figures in themselves at the moment do not justify us in giving early priority to the road in this area.

Of course, we have to consider national priorities in the allocation of road funds and I have to say to my hon. Friend that there are many schemes in the country where the traffic need is more urgent than is shown by these figures. But my hon. Friend also makes his case on the ground that the existing roads are badly overloaded and need relief. The design capacity of two-lane roads, such as these are — and he quoted me some figures in his letter— is 6,000 passenger car units per day. He correctly pointed out that the B.186 is now carrying something over 6,000 units per day and the A. 128 nearly 10,000.

I must make it clear that the design capacity of a road indicates the amount of traffic which can use it so that a free flow is maintained, with each driver going along as he pleases without interruption. We all know this is a most desirable state of affairs that we all want in as many places as possible.

But the fact is that a road can carry considerably more traffic than its design capacity. Many roads besides the A. 128 are doing so. Many are carrying a far greater excess than the A. 128. With our limited funds, we have to work at the moment— and I am imbued also with the language of priorities— to a proper scale of priorities in applying the funds at our disposal for road improvements. We have, I am sorry to say, many more urgent schemes than the construction of the North Orbital Road.

However, things are being done, some of which we referred to, in the part of the country he represents. As he mentioned, we are planning early improvements to the A. 128 in the shape of widenings and realignments. In particular, we have authorised an early start on a diversion at Bulphan, where there are some particularly bad bends. This will cost over £ 211,000.

When these schemes are carried out, we reckon that we shall have a two-lane road of reasonable standard. I know that this is still short of what some people will think necessary, but nevertheless it will be a substantial improvement. But there is another much more important and expensive scheme coming forward in Thurrock. Giving, as we must, priority to access to the docks, we intend to construct an entirely new highway to the container basin at Tilbury giving a swifter connection from the A· 128 to the docks and by-passing Grays. It will cost over £ 2 million, and we hope to start it next year. We are now carrying out urgent consultations with people on the spot. We consider this to be an important and urgent scheme, for the reason which my hon. Friend mentioned, and I hope, therefore, that it will be recognised among his constituents that we give high priority to the improvement of access to the docks and the new container basin.

To put the whole matter in perspective, the North Orbital Road will be built in time. I hope that that statement will not be greeted with cynicism. I realise that people have been waiting a long time for it, but there is a great deal to be done. It will have to be built in time, but at present we cannot give it high priority. We have to spend money and do other things to existing roads.

For the eight-mile section of the North Orbital Road between Dartford Tunnel and the Brentwood by-pass, the Essex County Council has just finished a survey. We now have its recommendations for the route, and we are examining the implications for other programmed routes in the area. We hope to publish very soon an Order under Section 7 of the Highways Act which will fix the line of route. This will be a definite step forward, and it will be publicised to all the people in that part of the country.

My hon. Friend will appreciate that just this section of the North Orbital Road is likely to cost about £ 5 million. In view of what I have said about its likely priority, therefore, he will realise that it would be exceedingly rash on my part to forecast tonight when it may be included in the trunk road programme. I can only assure him, having said what I have about the scheme we are carrying forward in his part of the world, that we shall consider all relevant factors very carefully as regards the line of the route and the programming of the North Orbital Road. I hope that he will recognise, in the meantime, that within the scale of national priorities and the funds available to us, we are taking urgent action about the immediate traffic problems in his area.

I thank my hon. Friend very much for his full reply, though I know that he will not expect me to be completely satisfied by it. He spoke earlier about some other ring roads near London. Could he tell me now, or, perhaps, in a letter, what are the other proposed ring roads around London which may affect the area?

There are schemes for a number of ring roads. The North Orbital Road is one of them. Another is the so-called D ring road drawn nearer the centre of London with the object of connecting up all the radial routes around London. We have not yet taken decisions on what will be the best possible routes or what should be the best ring for which we should go. A lot of work is still being done in surveys, by consultants and so on. We have also, as I have said, to give very serious consideration to the recommendations of the Essex County Council and examine them in relation to proposals that the ring should go nearer to the centre of London.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-six minutes to One o'clock.