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M16, Waltham Cross-Brentwood

Volume 884: debated on Tuesday 21 January 1975

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1.30 a.m.

It may seem ironic that the aim of my Adjournment debate this evening should be to encourage the Government to proceed with the motorway programme at the same time as many hon. Members in different parts of the House are suggesting that the Government should do exactly the opposite. Tonight I am pressing the Government for the earliest possible start to the stretch of the M16 running from the Thames to Brentwood. Those other right hon. and hon. Members who are pressing upon the Government that the motorway programme should be substantially reduced are doing so on economic grounds.

I make it clear that I understand the need to curb public expenditure. I understand, too, that the road development programme is an obvious candidate whenever a curb on Government expenditure is suggested. I suggest to the Minister that motorways cannot be seen in purely economic terms. Tonight we should be considering the environmental factors involved with this stretch of motorway as well as the economic issues.

I submit that by any test, economic or environmental, this particular stretch of motorway is not only justified but long overdue. I take first the economic argument. I contend that if this stretch of the M16 were to be built a considerable saving of time would result in conveying goods from Tilbury to the North. This would be particularly so if, as a result of the development of this stretch of the M16, the notorious bottleneck through the town of Brentwood were removed. So much for the economic justification for proceeding with this stretch of motorway.

From the environmental standpoint I submit that a reduction in noise and atmospheric pollution and an end to the veritable terror in which local residents live at the moment would make this a justifiable proposition. In case the Minister thinks that I exaggerate when I refer to "the veritable terror in which local residents live" I invite him to come to my constituency some time in the near future and attempt to cross the present A128 road at a rush hour on any weekday. If he were to do that I am sure that he would agree with me that any measure that can be contemplated to relieve the pressure upon the citizens of Brentwood is very much to be recommended.

The history of this problem dates, I suppose, particularly from the opening of the Dartford Tunnel. In retrospect it can be said that the tragic mistake was to encourage heavy traffic to use the tunnel without adequate access roads on the Essex side. Now my constituents read that a second Dartford Tunnel is proposed. The fear with which they look forward to that can be imagined.

At the moment from the Dartford Tunnel enormous juggernauts use what in parts is really no more than a suburban road, striking terror into the hearts of residents. In the process the beautiful and attractive villages of Herongate and Ingrave have been almost completely destroyed. If the Minister adds to this the existence of two schools, with children spilling out on to the A128 in the heart of Brentwood, I am sure that he will understand why my constituents are impatient for this stretch of motorway to proceed.

The Minister will know, from correspondence I have had with him, of the recent outcry which took place as a result of one of these heavy vehicles killing a 16-year-old boy. This has led to the formation of the vociferous A128 Action Group. I must say how disappointed those of my constituents who formed this group were when the Minister felt unable to receive a delegation to press upon him the need for this part of the M16. I accept that nothing that was said could have increased the urgency of the M16 in the Government's mind. Nevertheless, my constituents feel that there has been some buck-passing from the Department of the Environment to the county council, which we are told is the responsible authority. We accept that in regard to the A128, but the county council in turn has passed on the buck to the Brentwood District Council for extensive preliminary inquiries before coming to any conclusion.

All these are acceptable and democratic procedures, but they add to the frustration of the people of the area. I ask the Minister on behalf of my constituents to come as close as he can to giving a clear and specific date for the starting of this section of the M16. I also ask him to assure us that if there is to be any economy drive by the Government, and if there are to be cuts in the motorway programme, as far as lies within his power and for the impelling reasons I have placed before him this section of the M16 will not suffer.

I conclude by reminding the House that I also represent Ongar, and here, too, there is a strong case for a further section of the M16 to proceed. I am aware that the democratic processes—sometimes I wonder whether they are not over-democratic processes—are going forward on this stretch, so I merely express the hope that by about 1977 both Brentwood and Ongar will be bypassed by the M16. Only when that is the case will my constituents be able to go about their business free of fear of the heavy traffic which so many of them experience.

1.38 a.m.

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle) spoke as he did. I used to represent Ongar, and if the M16 is completed it will practically cut through the garden of my cottage, which is just over our common frontier.

I have only one thing to say on behalf of my constituents, many of whom sympathise with what my hon. Friend said, and that is that where and if the M16 in any way infringes the sanctity of Epping Forest it must go underneath.

1.39 a.m.

After the able and persuasive speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle) it would not be right for me to detain the Minister for more than a few moments.

The importance of the M16 to Chingford is great. The road will affect the lives of millions of people who live in the north-east sector of London, lives which are made miserable and dangerous by heavy traffic which travels through Chingford and along King's Head Hill. I accept that that does not relate precisely to the section of the road which is the concern of my hon. Friend but for certain sections of the road to be built and others to be omitted would be monstrous madness. The traffic would be encouraged along a section of the motorway and would then splurge out again through village and countryside.

Much as I understand the anxieties of those whose lives will be affected adversely by this road, I urge the Minister—for the greater good of the greater number, and particularly the millions who live in North-East London—to proceed as rapidly as possible with all sections of the road.

1.40 a.m.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle)—and also to his hon. Friends the Members for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) and Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) for their contributions—for taking this opportunity to speak about the importance of the M16 motorway, which goes through the area he represents. The hon. Gentleman made points which were both short and succinct. In particular, he drew attention to the congested traffic conditions on the existing A128 and stressed the need for the early construction of the M16 to relieve this road. The hon. Member for Chingford also emphasised that point.

The proposed M16 forms part of the projected London orbital road, and, for the benefit of hon. Members who may not be familiar with the sections into which this road is divided, I may say that the part of the proposed M16 to which this debate primarily refers is that between the A10 at Waltham Cross and the A12 at Brentwood. Draft proposals to establish the route of the M16 motorway between the two points were published in November 1973 and draft proposals for the necessary alterations to side roads and other related matters were published in June 1974.

A public inquiry into objections to these proposals opened at Epping under an independent inspector on 3rd December 1974. It is still in progress and seems unlikely to be concluded before April. In these circumstances I am sure that hon. Members will appreciate that it would be impossible for me to discuss either the merits or demerits of any of those proposals at the present time while the inquiry is taking place.

However, in the context of the point which the hon. Member has made about the need for this part of the M16, I think that other hon. Members may find it useful if I read to them part of my right hon. Friend's general statement of policy which was issued before the public inquiry into part of the road began. This said, among other things, that Government policy was
  • "1. In accordance with statements made in Parliament in June 1971 and endorsed by subsequent administrations, to create a national network of trunk roads adequate for the economic needs of the nation, linking major centres of population and industry, ports and airports.
  • 2. To improve environmental conditions by removing congestion and, where practicable, by diverting long distance traffic, and particularly heavy goods vehicles, from towns and villages onto roads suitable for them: and to build roads to standards that will minimise the risk of accident and injury."
  • That was a point stressed by all contributors to the debate. It continued:
    "3. As part of these requirements, to create an orbital road around London, relieving traffic congestion in the Greater London area, by allowing through traffic to skirt the periphery of London. These two schemes, from the A10 to the A12, in conjunction with other sections from the A1 to the A10 and from the A12 to the Dartford Tunnel will provide an important segment of such a route."
    Hon. Members may be aware that when the inquiry first opened certain objectors made submissions to the inspector which they requested should be transmitted to the Secretary of State. One of these acknowledged that the Government's general underlying policies with regard to transport were not a matter for consideration at the public inquiry but contended that objectors did not know how the proposed M16 fitted in with them.

    My right hon. Friend has responded to this by addressing a statement to the inspector holding the inquiry. In this, my right hon. Friend commented that the objectors should have referred to the policy statement which I have already mentioned, and should have waited until counsel for the Department opened his case at the inquiry, in the course of which he cited reports and ministerial statements to show that the construction of an orbital road for London had been the policy of successive Governments for many years, and that its construction as part of a national network of roads, itself part of a wider transport strategy, was the policy of the present Government.

    My right hon. Friend went on to say that he had been further informed that counsel and witnesses called by him explained the importance of the proposed M16 as part of the orbital road and also by itself, because of the traffic which would use it and the relief which it would afford to other roads. If objectors had studied his statement and listened to the presentation of the Department's case, they could not have been in any doubt as to what Government policy was, nor how the M16 proposal fitted into that policy. I may therefore assure the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar that the construction of an orbital road for London remains firm Government policy.

    I have spoken so far of the length of the proposed M16 from the A10 at Waltham Cross to the A12 at Brentwood. South of Brentwood, proposals for the section of the M16 from the A12 to the A13 were published in draft in December 1972, and were the subject of a public inquiry between June and September 1973.

    My right hon. Friend has recently announced that he has decided to accept in principle the line of this part of the motorway as published, subject to consultation with objectors and other interested parties, with a view to moving the route slightly further away from Cranham and to examination of the possisibility of providing a small and less obtrusive interchange with the A127 at Codham Hall. As I have already informed the hon. Member in answer to a Question which he asked in November, it is hoped that work on this part of the M16 can begin in the financial year 1976–77, subject to the satisfactory completion of the statutory procedures and the availability of funds at the time.

    In the course of his speech the hon. Member spoke of the need for the construction of the M16 in order to provide relief for the existing A128, which runs from Chipping Ongar through Brentwood to Tilbury. I agree entirely that the A128 needs relief so that the accident record can be improved.

    The hon. Gentleman then went on to ask whether, pending the construction of the M16, something could be done to improve this road. I have great sympathy with him, but this is not a trunk road and not, therefore, a road for which my right hon. Friend is directly responsible. I am informed that Essex County Council, which is the local highway authority, has asked Brentwood District Council, which acts as its agent, to let it have any practicable proposals for reducing traffic dangers on the road. Although this appears to be a complicated way, I think that it is the only way to do it where a local authority is deeply and closely involved in the matter. I am sure that both councils will regard the investigation of possible remedial measures as a matter of urgency.

    I assure the hon. Members that I fully appreciate the importance of the M16 to Brentwood and to the whole North-East of London, and reiterate the Government's commitment to the provision of an orbital road for London, of which it is proposed that this road shall form part.

    Will the Minister also say that he attaches great importance—I know that he does—to what I said about Epping Forest?

    Yes, I do. I have spoken to the hon. Gentleman earlier about this. However, as the matter of Epping Forest and the M16 as it affects Epping Forest is the subject of a public inquiry into the published line, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is too experienced not to appreciate that it would be quite wrong of me in this case to make any remark which perhaps could prejudice the discussion at the public inquiry that is proceeding.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Adjourned accordingly at ten minutes to Two o'clock.