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Bournemouth (Roads)

Volume 886: debated on Friday 21 February 1975

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4.4 p.m.

The matter that I wish to raise concerns the Bournemouth road system as it applies to the Springbourne area. On the motion for the Adjournment on 14th January this year my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) pressed the general issue of public disquiet over certain road schemes in Bournemouth. During the course of his cogent remarks he said that he hoped I would be offered an opportunity to deal specifically with one of those schemes. He referred to the one-way gyratory system instituted in the Springbourne area to replace the Queen's Park roundabout.

The background to the scheme is as follows. A new dual carriageway was built to carry east-west traffic, but this new road had to be crossed at some point by the north-south traffic and today we are concerned with the mechanism by which this interchange can be effected. The basic way in which it is presently achieved is by Queen's Park roundabout, and this is what the local residents desire to retain.

The planned scheme was for the roundabout to be scrapped and the north-south flow to cross the east-west flow by means of a new bridge, locally christened Folly Bridge, and then to be dispersed through a gyratory system created in the narrow residential streets of the area. The gyratory was brought into operation and resulted in a howl of anguish from the residents of the area.

In his report dated 6th December 1974, at paragraph 68 the Dorset County Surveyor stated:
"The environmental issues in this case are entirely related to the conflict between traffic and residential areas."
That sums up the issue here. But it gives no idea of the human misery caused by the routing of thousands of vehicles a day around the right-angle bends and narrow streets of a formerly quiet residential area.

The scheme was not simply a miscalculation or an error of judgment. It was sheer lunacy, and lunacy so appalling that the residents of the area revolted against the planners and their councillors and forced a complete rethink of the whole project.

The violence of the residents' reaction to the scheme was something I found quite horrifying. Never before have I seen my constituents so angry or so prepared to throng the streets in order to confront their councillors and MPs and to protest against this scheme, which ruined the environment and endangered the lives of their children.

The question that I found myself asking at the time was how all this could have come to pass. All the planning procedures had been complied with without any noticeable public opposition, and yet as soon as the scheme was implemented it was found to be totally unacceptable. How could that have come to pass? That is a question that must now be probed and it is a question of both local and national significance.

It is my considered opinion that this must not be allowed to occur again in either Bournemouth or anywhere else in the United Kingdom. It is quite clear that there was a disastrous failure of communication in this sense. Indeed, to quote again from the county surveyor's report, at paragraph 2,
"When the original Wessex Way proposals were published by the"—
Bournemouth Council—
"local residents failed to appreciate their side effects particularly as the proposed traffic regulation orders for the Richmond Park Road area were not prepared at the same time as the compulsory purchase order for Stage II."
That was the east-west road.
"Local residents can now legitimately say that they were aware of the Wessex Way proposals but not of the working details of the ancillary gyratory system in the Richmond Park Road area."
That in itself is a damning indictment. It must be made clear to all local planning authorities by the Government that plans for new road systems must be considered and published as a whole, not piecemeal.

If the plans had been published, it might have been that the Folly Bridge which no one wants and which costs thousands of pounds would have been weeded out at a much earlier stage. It is a matter of national as well as local concern when we bear in mind the vast proportion of the total expenditure met by the Government as opposed to the locality.

The town structure plan produced in 1966 showed a bridge across the then projected Wessex Way at a different point from that at which it was built. That plan showed the bridge at a point where the residents now say it should have been built, Richmond Park Road. This is some way to the east of the point where the bridge was built. There is something odd about this. A bridge is planned well in advance in a position acceptable to the residents. At the next stage plans are changed but the change is not made clear to the residents. The true facts are discovered at a later stage and the result is outrage, anger, annoyance and disgust when the recently-endorsed plan is found to be totally unacceptable.

This is something which ought never to have occurred and which could easily have been avoided. It must not recur. The Government must have this in mind when they are considering what legislation to frame in the light of the Dobry Report on planning procedures. At present Dorset County Council has decided to retain the Queen's Park roundabout for the foreseeable future. That is good. Common sense has prevailed to some extent at least. It is unfortunate that the expenditure of £40,000 of public money has been necessary to achieve this.

On 3rd September Bournemouth Borough Council had a full debate and backed a motion to retain the Queen's Park roundabout. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West and I made it our business to attend at that important debate in the town hall. We followed it up with a joint letter to the roads sub-committee telling it of the strong feelings which had been aroused by the proposal for the removal of the roundabout. I believe that that letter had some influence on the decision to retain the roundabout.

As for the future, there must be a second bridge built across Wessex Way—where it was originally planned. That is under consideration, and I say loud and clear from the Floor of this House that the residents will have my full support in seeking to achieve that. I ask the Government to note the distress caused in the area and to give high priority to a plan for building such a bridge when considering future capital grants for road works.

4.13 p.m.

The relationship of residents to roads is always an anxious one. It is perfectly appropriate for hon. Members to raise matters of this kind in this House, both so that the specific problem can be aired and so that general problems can be brought to the Government's attention.

I am obliged to the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Cordle) for the way in which he has presented this problem to the House. I listened with interest to the points he raised in pursuing a problem which, as he points out, is of concern to his constituents and has aroused strong feelings among them. This is also a matter which was raised by his right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) in an Adjournment debate a few weeks ago.

The hon. Member will understand that much of what was said in reply to that debate by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is apposite to what he has said today and must be included in my reply. In particular I must say, as my hon. Friend said to the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, West in the earlier debate, that while we have great sympathy for the hon. Member in the highway problems he finds in his constituency, which many hon. Members, including myself, find in their constituencies, he will know, as he has pointed out, that these are matters which essentially have to be decided by the responsible local highway authority, but the Government obviously retain an interest in the matter too. In the case of Bournemouth, as a consequence of the reorganisation of local government last year, the relevant authority is the Dorset County Council.

Hon. Members will know that a new system for providing Government assistance for local authority expenditure on roads and other transportation matters begins on 1st April this year. Under the new system, specific grants from the Government for road schemes will cease and instead funds will be provided through the rate support and transport supplementary grants. Under this system there will no longer be detailed Government control of schemes. Local authorities will be expected to draw up their transport policies and programmes in consultation with my Department, but within its framework they will be free to decide the priorities of the constituent parts—road schemes, traffic management measures, car parking facilities, public transport and so on.

In making decisions about the Bournemouth area, the Dorset County Council will be able to take account of the results of transport studies which have been carried out over a number of years. The first of these, about which the hon. Gentleman will know, which was started in 1965, was by a team of technical officers drawn from the major local authorities in what was then South-East Dorset, Bournemouth, and South-West Hampshire. The terms of reference required the team to carry out a study of the planning and transportation needs of the area, and a first report, produced in 1967, recommended the adoption of policies on future land use and a new primary road network.

On the basis that land uses would develop as forecast, the road network which was recommended was intended to serve a maintained and expanding public transport system in the area, particularly with regard to bus services. The report also foresaw a better use of local roads, by the introduction of traffic management schemes and by the wider provision of car-parking facilities.

Within Bournemouth itself the report recognised the need to maintain the character of the town centre—a very attractive character, as I know—as a major entertainment and shopping centre. To achieve this and to ensure that traffic congestion problems were ameliorated, and also in order that future growth should not be restricted, reorganisation of the whole of the primary road system of the centre was proposed. This comprised a series of new roads to form a town centre bypass described in the report as route 4. A large part of this route has now been constructed.

Also proposed were other primary roads linking with the town centre and the bypass, and one of these—described on the report as route 3—was a route to the north-east, parallel to Holdenhurst Road and linking with the Bournemouth Spur Road, which connects with the A31 trunk road south-west of Ringwood, in Hampshire. Stage I of this Holdenhurst Road relief road, also known as Wessex Way, has been completed, and work on the second stage is making good progress.

The second stage is expected to be completed later this year. It is to this scheme that many of the remarks of the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East have been directed, and I shall return to the subject shortly.

The 1967 report recommended that all the Bournemouth primary roads should be dual-carriageway roads of a high design standard, including others in the Christchurch and Poole areas which, together with the Bournemouth roads, would complete the primary road system in the area. A valuable updating of the 1967 report in 1970 enabled the local authorities concerned to accept the conclusions reached. The policies recommended were approved and action for their implementation was set in hand. While some doubt was felt in my Department about the justification provided in the report for some of the primary routes proposed, the town centre bypass and Holdenhurst relief road schemes were considered to be entirely acceptable, and by stages they were accepted into the former principal road preparation list. They have since been grant-aided and to a considerable extent their construction has been completed.

In 1971 the local authorities which joined in the preparation of the land use and transport studies accepted an invitation from the then Secretary of State for the Environment to prepare a structure plan for what was then South-East Dorset and South-West Hampshire. The authorities decided that preparation of the structure plan called for a new transport study in the area, using new techniques which were not available when the earlier studies were undertaken.

The objectives of this new study are, first, to provide a comprehensive transportation plan for the study area for 1986, specifying a recommended highway network, a public transport system and parking facilites, with policies for their oration and control; secondly, to provide the dates for design and programming to enable implementaton to be achieved by 1986; thirdly, to provide the basis for future monitoring and updating of the local authority's transport policies and programmes; and lastly, to provide the transport component of a structure plan evaluation for 1996.

The study will take account of those new roads which have already been provided and those which will be completed before the report is available. The study will also re-examine the road network proposals of the earlier studies for the late 1970s and onwards.

Following local government reorganisation Dorset County Council is, as I have said, the highway authority for the area, and the study is being undertaken by a joint team of council officers and a firm of transport consultants. The final report is expected in the summer of next year. It will then be for the council to decide how any reaffirmed or new proposals arising, from the report shall be implemented through the county's transport policy and programme.

The project report for the study contains a firm commitment to public consultation by the county council in the following terms:—
"Information and publicity about the study—the surveys the base year results, the future situation, the policies and strategies being considered and the finally recommended options—will be undertaken throughout the study. During the setting up of alternative policies and strategies, public participation will be organised in order to invite comments from the public".
I am told that, if the present rate of progress of the study is maintained, it is likely that the results of the surveys undertaken last year will be available this summer, and the first of a series of invitations to the public to comment on options for testing will be possible later this year. I have no doubt, therefore, that there will in future be arrangements for full public consultation. It is right that that should be so.

The county's transport policy and programme for 1975–76 includes a further stage of the town centre bypass and a scheme on the Fleetsbridge junction in Poole. The level of accepted transport expenditure in the county for 1975–76 would permit these schemes to proceed, and it is now for the council to decide whether they should do so.

For some years past, and for the future, planning has been and will be based on comprehensive transport studies. I can give a firm assurance that there will be a continuing dialogue between my Department and the county council about the broad issues involved in future transport policies and programmes.

I turn now to the points made by the hon. Gentleman. I have shown that the schemes currently in progress in Bournemouth were evolved in the context of a thorough and painstaking study into the land use and transport requirements of the area. I think it is generally accepted that the then highway authority, recognising the far-reaching effects of its proposals, was quite far-sighted and made every effort to advise, inform and consult the people of Bournemouth before decisions were taken. But problems of encouraging public involvement in planning and development are familiar ones to us all. We need to make sure that the involvement is genuine, and that the organisations concerned are representative of the people they claim to represent.

As for trunk roads and motorways, the roads for which the Secretary of State is the highway authority, since 1973 the Department has used a new public participation procedure for informing the public about possible alternative ways of carrying out such improvement schemes and the proposed alternative routes. In this procedure maps, documents and other display material are made available to the public, generally at local exhibitions lasting one or more days, according to the size of the scheme and the number of people likely to be affected. The exhibition is repeated in different localities if the area involved is widespread. A period of some weeks is allowed for the public to make their views known—if they wish, by means of a questionnaire which is made fully available. It is essential that the public should take advantage of their opportunities. If they do not, it may be too late later on and there may be only spilt milk to cry over.

Circular 30/73 drew the attention of local authorities to these new procedures and emphasised the need for local authorities, in the development of forward schemes, to have regard to the principles of these new procedures of informing the public about the practicable alternatives and of providing at the proper time the opportunity for them to express their views. The circular did not attempt to impose on local authorities the particular public consultation procedures which had been adopted for trunk road and motorway schemes, partly because local authority road schemes are prepared under different procedures. But we hope that participation of locally-elected representatives in debate at various stages in the development of road schemes will give the public greater awareness of the progress of road schemes in their area.

It has to be accepted, of course, that this sort of public debate does not always attract the attention it deserves, and unfortunately many people seem to become aware of proposals only when they are actually being carried out. That is why vigilance is of the utmost importance. But I am sure that most local authorities now appreciate—many have been aware of this for a long time—the danger of not involving the local people at an early stage. It can often happen that a superficially unattractive scheme will be accepted by local people when a more attractive scheme is not available. I am not commenting on the particular scheme at issue, but these things can happen only when the public have been consulted and involved and have not been ridden over roughshod.

Despite all the publicity efforts of the former highway authority, public awareness of certain aspects of the proposals relating to the Wessex Way scheme does not seem to have been as great as could have been desired.

It was originally considered, for planning and traffic reasons, that the interchange facilities at the present Queen's Park roundabout should be discontinued. In place of these a link road to cater for north-south traffic was provided over the new dual carriageway, located approximately on the line of the previous north-south principal traffic route, and traffic management measures to distribute this crossing traffic were proposed for local roads north and south of the bridge.

Despite the earlier widespread publicity about the scheme by the former highway authority and a very considerable airing at a public inquiry, local residents and organisations seem not to have been aware of the traffic management proposals and have only recently objected to them. Nevertheless the Dorset County Council, which became the highway authority last year, has been reviewing the scheme in the light of these representations.

This review of the concept of the scheme and the originally envisaged stage III still continues and clearly will take time to complete, but some revised interim arrangements for stage II have been put in hand. Because my Department no longer considers each individual local authority scheme in detail as a result of the change from specific grants to transport supplementary grants, these matters are not the direct concern of my Department. However, I am told that the council proposes to retain a modified roundabout on the Queen's Park site and has written to everybody who made representations explaining the new proposals and the allied traffic management measures.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this matter and I trust that he will convey to his constituents the information which I have been able to give him.