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A19 (Road Works)

Volume 893: debated on Monday 16 June 1975

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1.2 a.m.

The case which I want to bring before the House is one of the disruption and distress which have gone on in my constituency for a very long time. At this late hour I do not wish to go into the full and lengthy details of all the disruptions and distress which have been caused by the A19 road to the residents of Newport and Whinney Banks, but I cannot refrain from mentioning that they began substantially with the public inquiry into the route of the road in September 1970 when one of my predecessors, Dr. Jeremy Bray, now the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw, called the road that was to be put through the centre of the constituency a barbaric thing that would cause the area to become a "derelict wilderness". He was challenged on that phrase at that time, but in fact he is now proved to be correct because many areas in Newport and Whinney Banks in my constituency have become a derelict wilderness as a result of the building of this road through the constituency.

I should like to thank the Minister for the help and sympathy that he has shown to the residents and the organisations which have been affected by this road, and, indeed, if I may say so, by the other major road works proposed in my constituency in the Thornaby area, the A66 road works. He has been most helpful in alleviating the distress which has been caused. My criticism is not of the present administration. It is of the system.

I first took up the case of distress that has been caused to my constituents when I became the candidate in the constituency in 1973. I have had a constant series of complaints—of which I shall mention one or two—from different organisations and constituents since that time, which have led to my raising the matter in the House tonight. One of the principal organisations affected is the Allotments Club which is both a recreational and, more important, almost a business enterprise for many of the constituents in that area of Middlesbrough. The new road cuts right through their property and separates the clubhouse from the allotments. The most recent complaint I have had from them was that a meeting they wish to have with the Department of the Environment and the contractors took nine months to organise.

These are ordinary working men who have their allotments and are members of the social club. They have to work during the day and can get to meetings only in the evenings. Their lives have been disrupted and their recreation in their allotments has been disrupted by the building of the road. It has taken them nine months of frustration and annoyance to get that meeting organised. Access to their allotments has been constantly interrupted, the club's property has been trespassed on by contractors, and they have had to spend £1,000 on solicitor's fees and £1,000 on surveyor's fees as a result of the building of the road. Pipes supplying water to the allotments have been burst and the bill for 150 allotments has gone up from £60 a year to about £1,000 a year. All this has caused a tremendous amount of disruption and inconvenience to the people who have allotments there. The club premises, unlike other properties affected by the road, are not to be double glazed—and that is another of the irritations they have had as a result of the building of the road.

I have had very strong complaints from Captain Beck of 216 Stockton Road, and other residents that, although their windows are to be double glazed, no double glazing has been supplied for the french windows at the back which are only a few feet from the road. The whole impact of double glazing the houses is being spoilt because of the regulations stopping the double glazing of french doors.

In Ashford Avenue, the residents of 67 to 73 were left isolated at the end of the road, sticking out at the bottom of the avenue right next to the road works. One or two of the residents felt very strongly that, with the road being so close, their houses should have been compulsorily purchased. After a battle of two years, in which I was involved as a candidate and Member, their houses have finally been taken over. But it has caused an enormous amount of inconvenience, stress and strain.

Probably the worst example of the way in which people's lives have been upset is in the Crathorne Crescent and Maldon Road area where the ratepayers' association has been complaining to the Department and the contractors ever since work on the road began in July 1972. They have complained about vibration from heavy equipment, mud, noise, damaged water pipes and property and dangers to children. They have had to employ a solicitor, and in the file I got from him there are more than 70 letters—correspondence between them and the Department, the contractors and their insurers.

The Minister has told us in correspondence that there is no simple solution and that people can claim damages for injury or neglect against those responsible. But as the correspondence with which I have been presented clearly shows, time and again there is evidence of buck passing—it is time that came to an end.

The residents have to decide whether they should act individually or together. They have to contend with two major contractors, Cementation and Earthstrip, consulting engineers and their solicitors, and insurers and their solicitors. They have to appoint and pay their own solicitors and surveyors for technical reports on the effect of the road works on their property.

All this is because the community wants that road to go right past their property. They did not ask for the road. It was the community which wanted it to go there. It seems quite wrong in these circumstances that they should be put to the added inconvenience of having to fight to get compensation through this awful maze, this plethora of firms and legalities, at considerable expense and inconvenience, when they have already had all the dirt, inconvenience and disruption of three years of road building.

My view is that in these circumstances the Department should do two things. First, from the very earliest stages of a road building exercise such as this, the Department should appoint a troubleshooter, preferably someone from the locality, to whom the residents and organisations affected by the building of the road can go in order to get answers to their queries. Way back in 1972 the Department and the contractors organised meetings for the residents, but they were not continued. The residents were promised bulletins which would keep them in touch with developments, but they did not come. Much of the confusion, unrest and disruption has been caused by the lack of information.

It is my firm belief that if, as I suggested back in 1973, the Department had appointed a trouble-shooter, as Middlesbrough Council did when it was responsible for building a road right next to this one, the Northern route going through Middlesbrough, many of the problems that have arisen over the last three years would have been easily overcome, and all the irritations and difficulties that may constituents have had to put up with would have been greatly lessened.

If the Department is embarking upon similar road works in other parts, and certainly if they come to the other part of my constituency, the A66 in Thornaby, the Minister should carefully consider appointing someone, preferably from the locality, who could receive all the complaints and reply to them adequately and be a source of information about what is going on and why it is going on.

Secondly, the Department and the Minister must accept the responsibility for the claims for compensation. Perhaps the legal responsibility under the contracts does rest with the contractors. But I have seen the correspondence. It is an intolerable situation for people who have been put to this trouble to have to find their way through this maze of solicitors and other individuals and organisations involved. At the very least, the Department could give much greater assistance to individuals who are suffering from the effects of major road works such as these. It could guide them much more carefully and give them information about their rights and about what action they should take in order to satisfy their demands for compensation for the inconvenience and for the damage to their property which has been sustained.

If the Minister could give me some reassurance that there will be greater co-operation as the last stages of this road are completed and that some guidance will be given to the residents and organisations still affected by these road works, my constituents will be well satisfied. We cannot turn the clock back to 1972 when these road works started and begin talking at this stage about appointing the trouble-shooter I have mentioned. However, I hope that my hon. Friend will bear this suggestion in mind in relation to future road works.

When I wrote to the Minister in March of this year, I said that I should be grateful if he could give me an assurance along these lines. In his reply the Minister told me that basically the residents, the people who are claiming compensation, must go through the legal processes. They are prepared to do that, but they would appreciate any gesture of good will to assist them in doing so. Mrs. Dorothy Wedlake, the Chairman of the Crathorne and Maldon Ratepayers' Association, wrote to me only this week. She wrote:
"All the members of our association are disgusted at the evasive actions being taken by the Department of the Environment and wish to give you their sincere thanks for your involvement. Regardless of the outcome we press on through the courts."
I hope that if they have to press on through the courts—they did not want to be involved in this way but they have been forced into it by the circumstances—they will have at least the guidance and co-operation of the Department from this point onwards.

1.16 a.m.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Thornaby (Mr. Wriggles-worth) for giving me this opportunity to speak on the importance of the A19 for the area which he represents. I congratulate my hon. Friend on the courteous but forceful way in which he has made his points both personally and in correspondence.

For the benefit of hon. Members who may not be familiar with the area, it may be helpful if I could attempt to place the road works with which my hon. Friend is particularly concerned in the context of the improvement of the A19 as a whole. The A19 forms the main part of the major trunk route carrying heavy traffic from the A.1 at Dishforth, near Ripon, to Cleveland and the other industrial areas on the North-East coast between the Tees and the Tyne. It is being virtually replaced by a new road.

The need for this new route was recognised in the White Paper entitled "The North East, a programme for Regional Development and Growth", which recommended, among other improvements in the communication system of the North-East, the replacement of the present A19 north-south route through Stockton by a new route probably crossing the Tees between Stockton and Middlesbrough. Thus the new road is being built as part of the economic regeneration of the North-East of England.

Improvements of the A19 recently completed include the Thirsk Bypass and the dualling of the route between there and the North Yorkshire boundary. The section between Billingham and Easington, and the Sunderland Bypass, have also been dualled. The Teesside diversion, which is the part that particularly concerns my hon. Friend, is currently under construction. Immediately to the north of it will be the Billingham diversion, on which the general public were consulted about a number of alternative routes last year. An announcement of the preferred route for that section was made in April this year. The public are currently being consulted about alternative lines for the continuation of the route southwards beyond Dishforth in order to provide a link with the M1.

Let me now deal in a little more detail with the Al9 Teesside diversion. This part of the new road will start approximately one mile south of Crathorne and terminate approximately a quarter of a mile north-west of Haverton Hill Road south of Billingham. There will be grade separated interchanges with the existing A19 just north of Crathorne with the new Teesside Parkway north of Maltby, with Mandale Road and Stockton Road in Thornaby and with Haverton Hill Road. There will be two major bridges, one 1,130 ft. long over the Leven valley and one 6,350 ft. long between the Stockton Road and Haverton Hill road interchanges, carrying the new road over the existing A66, the railway marshalling yards and the River Tees.

We hoped that the whole of the Teesside diversion would be complete and open to traffic by the end of this year. However, because of difficulties and delays with the Leven Valley and Tees Bridges, this will not now be possible. Construction of the Leven viaduct was hampered by ground conditions which necessitated redesigning the foundations, and the Tees Bridge was delayed by the energy crisis of 1973–74, bad weather and a hold-up in the supply of steel reinforcing.

We now propose to open the Teesside diversion in phases as those parts of the road which form a viable link with the existing highway network are completed. We hope to open the length of new road between the Teesside Parkway and Haverton Hill Road interchanges and the Mandale Road interchange in November this year. The northbound carriageway of the Tees Bridge will carry both northbound and southbound traffic.

Both carriageways of the Tees Bridge will be opened in February 1976 and the Stockton Road interchange will be opened in the autumn of 1976 on completion of the roads with which it will connect. The Leven viaduct will also be completed in the autumn of 1976 and the whole of the Teesside diversion will then be open. Until then the section between the Crathorne interchange and Teesside Parkway will be used by contractors' traffic only. These proposals will make the maximum use of the road works while they remain partially completed.

I appreciate that the arrangements are not wholly satisfactory but, nevertheless, they will provide a considerable measure of relief in the area. I can assure my hon. Friend that my colleagues in the Department and I are well aware of the serious human problems which can be caused to those whose living conditions are changed by the building of new roads. I share his concern that as much as is reasonably possible should be done to ensure that those who are obliged to live close to these roads should not suffer as a result.

As my hon. Friend described, part of the Teesside diversion passes very close to a densely developed industrial and residential area, and it is the effect on this area, especially in the neighbourhood of the Stockton Road interchange, that caused us most concern and gave rise to most complaint. It is, unfortunately, inevitable that in such an area the construction of such a major new road, particularly when it includes a complex interchange, will be a cause of distress and disturbance to those living nearby.

It was in an effort to be able to provide means of reducing these adverse effects as far as possible that the Land Compensation Act 1973 was passed. I think most people would agree that this Act has meant a significant step forward in the past year or two towards improving the lot of those who, against their will, happen to find themselves adjacent to new public works of one kind or another.

Part I of that Act created a new right to compensation for people from whom no land is taken for the works but whose property when in use loses value because of its closeness to the works. Owners of many properties may now be compensated for any depreciation of more than £50 in the value of their property caused by such physical factors as noise, smell, fumes, vibration and dust, and so on from any new or improved highway which came into use on or after 17th October 1969.

Part II of the Act contains powers to make regulations about sound insulation. The Noise Insulation Regulations 1973 provide certain rights to insulate residential property—for example, double glazing and supplementary ventilation if necessary—against noise from traffic on new or improved roads. Properties may be insulated against noise from road construction. My hon. Friend asked about double glazing of french windows. A way has now been found to remedy the problem, and he will receive fairly soon a letter from me explaining this to him.

It is obviously not always possible because of physical and financial limitations to eliminate entirely features which are visually intrusive or which result in disturbance to neighbouring areas. We have tried treatments such as earth mounding on the Al9 scheme which can both hide the new road and lower the level of noise imposed on the surrounding area. However, I must reiterate that it is unrealistic to hope to build a major road in an urban area entirely without noise and other nuisances, but we have tried to minimise the problem on the Al9 during the construction period.

The Teesside diversion was one of the large number of schemes which were actually being built when the Land Compensation Act 1973 came into force, and while it was obviously not possible to introduce major design changes, measures were taken to implement the Act as far as possible.

Full use continues to be made of these powers in connection with the Teesside diversion, and, to date, some 85 properties have been identified as eligible for insulation which has been authorised, and about half of this work has already been carried out. Some properties have been purchased under powers conferred by Part II of the Act.

I turn now to some of the specific complaints which my hon. Friend has drawn to my attention. He has told me that the Newport, Middlesbrough, Co-operative Allotment Society has a number of grievances which it wished to discuss with representatives of the Department and that the North-Eastern Road Construction Unit had failed to hold a meeting promised some eight or nine months ago.

I have since written to my hon. Friend about this. The unit did indeed have approaches from members of the society and also from the society's solicitors. Unfortunately, the precise details of the complaints were not always clear. A date was fixed for a meeting in January, but this was cancelled at the request of the society. I am pleased to be able to say, however, that a meeting did take place on Tuesday, 27th May, at which various matters were discussed and understandings reached. I very much hope that this will have dealt with all the society's immediate problems.

My hon. Friend has also mentioned that he has been approached by residents of Malden Road and Crathorne Crescent whose property, he said, had been damaged as a result of the construction of the new road at the rear of their houses. He maintained that, since the contractors employed by the Government were responsible for the damage caused, the Government should accept responsibility for claims for compensation.

It is a basic principle of the existing law, however, that an independent contractor is responsible for his own actions and omissions. The Department, like other public authorities, adopts the practice, invariably followed in construction contracts, of requiring the contractor to indemnify it against claims arising out of his performance of the contract, and to cover his liability under that indemnity by insurance.

The Department's unwillingness to be involved—to the exasperation of my hon. Friend and others—in such claims is due not to perversity but to sheer practical necessity. If anything goes wrong in the performance of the contract, for example, the chances are that the contractor is more likely to know about it than the authority employing him. It is up to the contractor to see that his work people and sub-contractors behave carefully and avoid causing injury to other people. He is in a much better position to do this than the Department.

Negotiations must, in the end, take place between the claimant and the person with ultimate legal responsibility for payment, so the Department does not negotiate directly with the claimant or settle claims which probably lie within the contractor's or his insurers sphere of responsibility.

I have also been conscious of the effect on traffic on the existing roads in the area. In order to reduce to a minimum any adverse effects created by the construction of the Teesside diversion, a special consultative committee has been in existence since the early days of the contract. Representatives of the Department, of the contractor, the consulting engineer, the local authority, the police and major industrial interests have all taken part. Representatives of the bus operators attend the meetings when required. The meetings are held regularly about every two months, and any major problems likely to involve the public, such as temporary road closures or the diversion of bus routes, are discussed, and steps are taken to ensure adequate publicity through the Press.

In this way, difficulties are anticipated, and, as far as possible, dealt with in advance. I am not aware of any serious failure in these arrangements, and I think the committee is to be congratulated on successfully avoiding any major interference with existing traffic flows.

I have considerable sympathy with my hon. Friend's constituents in the disturbance I know they are suffering while these major road works are in progress. I am concerned that their discomfort should be reduced to the minimum. The powers of the Land Compensation Act are at our disposal in an attempt to achieve this, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will continue to bring to my attention any instances where he thinks we can do more than we are doing. I hope that he and his constituents appreciate the difficulty we would be in if we as a Department attempted to take responsibility for claims for damage arising from the performance of the contractor, and I hope that his constituents' difficulties in this respect will soon be resolved. In the meantime, I think that as the works are completed over the next few months they can now look to a progressive reduction in the disturbance to which they are subjected.

I shall read with care the points made by my hon. Friend in his eloquent speech. I shall give them more consideration and perhaps speak to him or write to him about them later.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at half-past One o'clock.