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Barnes (Environment)

Volume 887: debated on Wednesday 5 March 1975

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3.20 a.m.

I apologise to the Minister for again dragging him here at an early hour in the morning to answer a debate on the environment in an area in my constituency. I give fair warning that I was dissatisfied with the substance of his last reply to me—not with its manner, because he delivered his speech with great courtesy. That earlier debate dealt with Kew, and I shall return on future occasions to the needs of my constituency, which is suffering from aircraft noise, juggernaut lorries and other environmental depredations. I shall do this until the Government take some action and bring pressure on the Greater London Council, the major local authority responsible for my constituency.

Tonight I wish to raise the problem of the environment in Barnes. Barnes is an area in my constituency lying between the River Thames and Richmond Park. It is an area of great character, close to Central London, and about quarter of an hour's drive from the House. Although it is so close to Central London, it still retains a great deal of beauty with its open spaces, the river, St. Paul's School, and the famous Barnes Common which runs close to the edge of Richmond Park. Barnes Village is precious and should be protected and cherished. Also in the area there are many old and well-kept houses of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

The Minister knows from correspondence that Barnes is well represented on the Richmond-on-Thames Borough Council by three hard-working councillors who do a great deal of work in pursuing the interests of Barnes ratepayers. There are also several excellent amenity associations active in the area, and this includes the organisation known as the Barnes Community Association.

Barnes is now in danger of being brutalised. That is the only way to describe it. Why is this so? The main reason lies in the total disinterest of the GLC. It is precisely the same situation which applies to Kew. The GLC just does not seem to be interested in my constituency. It is not interested in Kew. It takes no action to stop juggernaut lorries going through the area, and the same applies to Barnes. The one way in which this brutalisation is taking place is in activity overhead. Aircraft noise constantly drums into the ears of residents of Barnes. Barnes lies directly under the glidepath to London Airport. Although I should like to expand on that matter, this is not the time to do so since it is not the direct responsibility of the Minister.

There is another air matter I wish to raise. The area of activity which comes within the Minister's responsibility is the use of helicopters over Barnes. These machines fly at regular intervals along the river and cross Barnes out to the west via Battersea Heliport. There is widespread resentment over the use of these aircraft. The Civil Aviation Authority now talks of 36,000 movements a year by 1980, which is three times the present level.

I agree with the four points made recently by the Heathrow Association for the Control of Air Noise in a recent document which it sent to the Greater London Council. I agree that helicopter noise must be treated as a form of pollution. It is in the power of the GLC to reduce that pollution drastically if it is encouraged by the Minister to do so. Such action would be for the benefit of many and the harm of no one.

Secondly, the Minister must realise that there are a large number of people who suffer from it, especially the western areas of London. They suffer noise from both a large share of helicopter flights and from aircraft.

The third point is the necessity to turn down the application which Westland Limited has put forward for a new licence to operate the Battersea Heliport after 30th June 1975, together with a proposal for an increase in the authorised number of flights.

The last point is that the present operator of the Battersea Heliport, Westland Limited, has consistently flouted the regulations about the authorised maximum number of flights. The excess was over 50 per cent. in 1973 and about the same in 1974. This is not good enough.

I ask the Minister for an assurance that he will urgently consult the GLC to tackle this problem.

A suggestion has been made that the flights should be increased from 4,000 to 6,000 during the coming year. The Richmond-upon-Thames Council has protested but the GLC, as usual, does nothing. I ask that the Minister should consider the matter urgently.

The second issue I wish to discuss is the brutalisation taking place in Barnes on the ground. The main menace is the same as that at Kew. I raised this matter during the debate last year. The Minister went to some trouble to write to me after the debate, and I am grateful.

The juggernaut lorries are just as bad in Barnes as in Kew. I should like to read an extract from a letter which I received from a distinguished constituent, Sir John Pilcher, who was our ambassador in Japan until two or three years ago. He lives in The Terrace on the edge of Barnes Village. He writes:
"Since the near-completion of the motorway M3, heavy lorries in increasing numbers have come to use The Terrace as a short cut on their way in and out of London. They are entirely unsuited to this road, which is too narrow for them. They pass at an excessive speed and endanger the life and limb of pedestrians for whom The Terrace is a favourite walk along the river. It is virtually impossible now to use the seats provided on the riverbank, because of the noise caused by these lorries; it is even difficult to cross the road to reach this once agreeable local amenity. One lorry has already jackknifed a shop by the junction of The Terrace and Barnes High Street. Mothers bringing children to the nursery school at the White Hart Lane end of The Terrace are endangered by them.
Moreover, heavy lorries are shaking and damaging the old houses in The Terrace. These merit respect, since they constitute the characteristic and historic Barnes riverfront, which is a conservation area and should be reserved for residents and recreation.
May we therefore ask for an assurance that swift measures are to be taken to prevent lorries from using The Terrace altogether and that unnecessary through traffic is to be diverted from using this route? Traffic should as far as possible be directed over Chiswick Bridge or along the South Circular Road."
I have said the same on many occasions in the past. This letter, which was written by Sir John Pilcher to the Director of Development Traffic Commissioner at County Hall, received, as is usual for the Greater London Council, no action. There was an acknowledgment, but no action was taken to deal with the problem. Rumours merely filtered out. Now we have had copies of a draft consultation document from the GLC which implies that in future—we are not told when—the juggernaut lorries might be banned from Barnes, but no indication is given of when that will happen. The situation continues to worry residents in the village. I hope that the Minister will be able to take some action. I ask for an assurance tonight that heavy lorries will be banned from The Terrace, Barnes High Street and Mortlake forthwith. I am certain that if the Minister asked the GLC to take action it would have to do so.

My next point is about the riverside land. I mentioned that one part of Barnes borders on the river. This is a particularly beautful area. It is seen by people not only going up- or down-river from or to the Port of London but using the walks on the Chiswick side of the River Thames.

There has been correspondence between the Richmond-upon-Thames Borough Council and the Department regarding the possibility of a grant of £800,000 for this land. That has consistently been refused. I am not making any party political point, because the Minister's predecessors in the previous Government also appeared not to be particularly interested in providing a grant in order that this land might be safeguarded.

This land by the river, apart from a small school which is to be built for Swedish nationals, is London's just as much as it is Barnes' heritage. Surely it is worth considering whether this open space should be saved for the nation. I recognise the financial constraints upon the Government in our present economic situation, but I ask the Minister to assure me tonight that he will have another look at this matter and will reconsider the letter that he sent to me on 17th February confirming the decision turning down Richmond's application for this grant.

I should now like finally to raise a matter which, for once, is not the responsibility of the GLC. I refer to the way that small shops are rapidly closing in Barnes. This situation is changing the face of the village. I know that this is happening not only in Barnes but in many other such communities throughout the country. This problem is largely due elsewhere to the development of supermarkets and bigger stores, but in Barnes it is a particularly worrying situation.

The Barnes Community Association, which is very anxious about it, has said that there should be some investigation by the Minister into whether it would be possible to arrange a special status for the local community shops. It asks that individual small shops or essential stores serving a local community be accorded the same rights as residential tenants. The suggestion is that the Government should set up a shops rents tribunal to adjudicate on rent increases now that the business freeze has been lifted. The local authorities are asked to adopt a number of special policies to preserve the community trades, including compulsory purchase of any shops left empty for more than six months and planning permission for changing any type of shop. That request is put forward by the Barnes Community Association in its newsletter called "Prospect".

I do not expect the Minister to reply to this request tonight, but I should like an assurance that he will consider it.

Finally, as I indicated earlier, I must point out that in yet another part of my constituency the Greater London Council seems to have abandoned us again. The only possible hope for my constituents is to appeal to the Minister for his assistance. The Greater London Council, as in Kew, seems interested only in using the ratepayers' money to buy property, which it is doing over a fairly wide area throughout Barnes. It is doing it in other areas of my constituency too.

Our last hope lies with the Minister's Department. It cherishes Richmond Park, and all of us in Richmond are grateful to the Minister and his Department for the way in which they look after the park and open spaces. They have safeguarded the area not only for Richmond but for the country as a whole, and we are grateful for the way in which they do it. Will the Minister also cherish Barnes and give us some hope that the village of Barnes will also continue in the next century as it has done during past centuries?

3.35 a.m.

The hon Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle) recalled that last November we faced one another in a debate about the environment in Kew, and I congratulate him on securing yet another opportunity to raise the important issue of environmental nuisance being suffered by his constituents, this time principally in Barnes.

I recollect that on the earlier occasion the hon. Gentleman mentioned Barnes as being as badly affected by traffic as Kew. He described vividly the environmental pressure under which the residents of an urban community live, but he will appreciate that similar and perhaps worse situations exist in many other parts of the country where there is a conflict between the needs of a primarily residential locality and the requirements of a larger geographical area which values its mobility. The House knows very well that there are no quick and easy solutions for remedying this situation.

Perhaps I may make a few comments about Barnes, an area which I happen to know reasonably well. I have lived there for short periods, and travelled around it. I can testify to its being a pleasant area.

To understand something of the environment of Barnes one must appreciate its setting in the London borough of Richmond-upon-Thames. Barnes lies south of one of the many loops in the river, a loop which is approximately one-and-a-half miles across, and north of the Upper Richmond Road, which forms part of the South Circular Road. I think the House will be interested to know that Barnes is mentioned in the Domesday Book. It was called Berne in those days. It was once held as a manor by the canons of St. Paul's and, as the hon. Gentleman said appropriately enough, it now contains the new St. Paul's School.

The area comprises mainly residential development, open space and Metropolitan Water Board land. The residential land to the west is separated from the river by the water board land and Lonsdale Road. The area as a whole affords a quite rural retreat in a splendid riverside position and has special significance in view of its proximity to the densely populated areas of inner London. As the hon. Gentleman said, it involves a journey of about 15 minutes at this time of the night to get to Barnes from Westminster, but I have taken considerably longer on occasion.

The hon. Gentleman complained that the area is suffering severely from the effects of traffic congestion caused by what he terms "juggernauts" and from noise caused by helicopters. He also referred to an application by the London borough of Richmond-upon-Thames for public open space grant in respect of land in Lonsdale Road, Barnes. It may be helpful if I deal with each of these points in turn.

With regard to the question of road congestion, my Department is, of course, acutely aware of the problems caused by heavy goods vehicles using unsuitable roads. Indeed, we have set in hand a programme of research to learn more about the implications of various possible alternative approaches to the problems of movement of goods in towns and the location of traffic generators such as warehouses, shopping centres and haulage yards. I understand that within Barnes, the use of heavy vehicles is generated by the brewery at Mortlake and to a lesser extent by Harrods' depository at the northernmost extremity. No doubt a proportion of the vehicles going to and from the brewery uses the A3003, a part of which is formed by Barnes High Street, but I am not sure whether the term "juggernaut" is used in reference to these vehicles. However, the hon. Gentleman—

I am not referring to those vehicles at all. Those vehicles have for many years used the area. There is no complaint about that. It is the vehicles using Barnes as a through route and a short cut which are worrying people.

I just felt that I had to eliminate those vehicles, because brewery vehicles can be fairly heavy.

The hon. Gentleman must realise—and this is the real problem—that until we get suitable roads there can be no question of moving vehicles from some of the roads they are using. That would merely mean that some other hon. Member would be raising the matter on another occasion to get the traffic moved from his area. I do not say that the hon. Member has no right to raise this, but there are steps which the Dykes Act, as it has become known, may make us all think about—about new roads and other suggestions about the breaking up of loads. We are not sure whether three lorries of 10 tons are better than one of 30 tons.

I must make clear that the responsibility for main roads in Barnes, including the A3003, the A306 and the South Circular Road, lies with the Greater London Council and that the Richmond Borough Council is responsible for all other roads in the area. There are no trunk or special roads in this part of London south of the Thames for which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is responsible. The responsibility for placing restrictions, if such are necessary, on lorry traffic lies, therefore, with the Greater London Council, and no doubt the hon. Member has made his views known to that authority.

The GLC has already produced a consultation document containing tentative proposals for lorry routing in London and has sent copies to the London borough councils and other interested bodies, including my own Department. In so doing the council is recognising the importance of planning for the use of the lorry in the knowledge that there is no alternative system of distributing goods immediately available. A positive lorry routing system draws attention to existing problems, and for this reason the council is seeking the views of London boroughs, industry and other interested parties before taking up any firm decisions. The A205 South Circular road on the southern fringe of Barnes is shown on the tentative network. There is no alternative road available.

The GLC has itself done a lot of work over the whole field of freight distribution, and I understand that it is hoping to publish a discussion document in April. There will be a period of up to four months of public consultation before any decision is taken about an overall strategy.

I hope that, having said that, I have made clear to the hon. Member that things are being done and that there is hope that some part of the solution will be found soon.

Because of the shortness of time, I turn briefly to the problem of noise from helicopters. The course of the river is for safety reasons the designated path taken by helicopters travelling between the heliport at Battersea, about three miles to the east, and London Heathrow Airport. I know that during the previous debate on the environment in Kew the hon. Gentleman expressed, in passing, his disquiet about noise from aircraft and helicopters on their way to Heathrow. The GLC has now received an application for planning permission to continue the use of the site at Battersea until an alternative site can be found and to increase the number of permitted flights from the present 4,000 per year to 6,000 per year. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the matter is primarily one for the Greater London Council, at least in the first instance.

The GLC is concerned about the problem, and I would draw the hon. Member's attention to the council's action in conducting noise surveys along the route followed by the helicopters. The analysis of these surveys is expected to be completed by the end of April and a report will be presented to the planning committee in early May.

When the Minister says that this matter is the responsibility of the GLC in the first instance, does that mean that the Secretary of State can then overrule whatever the GLC may decide?

It would depend upon whether there were appeals after the GLC had made its decision. On many of these aspects I would need guidance on the actual powers that my right hon. Friend had. But, obviously, if there were appeals—I should need guidance on this—I would think that it would be my right hon. Friend to whom appeals would be made.

The hon. Member also referred to Richmond Borough Council's application—I am sorry to be speaking so rapidly but I am sure the hon. Gentleman would like some note of these points—for public open space grant for land in Lonsdale Road, Barnes. Perhaps I should explain a little about this grant. Until 1st April 1974 grants were payable towards the cost of acquiring land for use as open space. These have now been discontinued. Public open space consists of parks and pleasure grounds, recreation grounds and playing fields which are in or near built-up areas and are provided by the authority primarily for the use of residents in the area.

Grant could be claimed by all local authorities including parish councils, in respect of expenditure incurred with the acquisition or appropriation of land for use as open space. The grant was payable at the rate of 50 per cent. of the cost of acquisition. Land appropriated for use as public open space was also eligible for grant. Treasury agreement was necessary for any land being approved for grant purposes in excess of £50,000.

As the hon. Gentleman said, in 1973 Richmond Borough Council appropriated for open space purposes some 17·3 acres of land in Lonsdale Road, Barnes, which formed part of the site of the former Metropolitan Water Board reservoirs. Following local representation, the council decided to prepare a scheme for infilling the reservoir and the laying out of the area as public open space. In March 1974 Richmond applied for public open space grant for this site. The open market value was £800,000, and grant would have amounted to £400,000.

The hon. Gentleman said that he was aware that there is a shortage of money. But, more important, he will be aware that there is no deficiency of public open space in Richmond. Indeed, the borough has more public open space per 1,000 of the population than any other of the 33 boroughs in Greater London. It is interesting to note that, in all, over one-third of its 14,000 acres comprises public open space.

No, but there is a question of money, and many towns outside London are nowhere near so favoured. I have received delegations from various parts of the country who are looking for just a very little open space.

But to return to the specific point, in June 1974 the Department turned down the council's application for grant on the ground that the degree of additional public benefit which would be derived from the proposal did not justify an allocation of funds of this magnitude. Moreover, the site is already used by the public for nature study and bird watching. I need hardly add that in the present economic climate it would now be even more difficult to justify such expenditure of public money.

To sum up, both the question of traffic and helicopter nuisance are, as I have explained, primarily the responsibility of either the Greater London Council or the council of the London borough of Richmond-upon-Thames. As the hon. Gentleman will know, an important aspect in the relationship between central and local government is that the respective areas of responsibility should be kept as clear as possible, and that accordingly it is not the policy for central Government to intervene in the exercise of a local authority's responsibilities and thereby weaken its independence, unless there is incontrovertible evidence that the authority is failing in its duties.

My last point may take only a moment. The question of the small shops closing because of changes in—

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

Adjourned at ten minutes to Four o'clock a.m.