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School Crossing Patrol (Croydon)

Volume 895: debated on Wednesday 18 June 1975

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5.5 p.m.

I count myself fortunate to have been able to catch the eye of the Chair twice on the same afternoon. I must not abuse that good fortune, so I shall be brief. Furthermore, since I understand that the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment wishes to catch a plane to Scotland—and I am grateful to him for being present—I shall keep my remarks short.

This may seem to be a parochial subject for an Adjournment debate since the title is "Official objections to the provision of warning lights in the vicinity of Whitehorse Manor School", but this is an important matter in my constituency. The reason I seek to raise this matter on the Floor is that it has been dragging on for a long time. Indeed, it was as long ago as 1972 that my council's highways and works committee, following recommendations from the road safety subcommittee, approached the Department and made a request for the provision of warning lights. The application was rejected, but it was repeated in 1973 and again in 1974. On both those subsequent attempts the council did not succeed in getting permission for the erection of these lights.

As a result of continual pressure and many applications, there is now a feeling of anger in parts of the constituency that the children are exposed to risk. Indeed the parent-teachers' association has now suggested that this matter should be more fully ventilated, and the only way in which I can do that adequately is by raising the matter on the Adjournment. Hence this debate this afternoon.

Whitehorse Manor School is situated, not surprisingly, in Whitehorse Manor Road, which is a very busy main road. It has the distinction of dividing my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Mr. Weatherill). My hon. Friend is unable to be here this afternoon, but he asks me to say that he lends his support to this application and very much hopes that the Minister will be able to give an affirmative answer.

I have said that Whitehorse Manor Road is a busy road. It provides access for through traffic from Thornton Heath to Addiscombe and from Upper Norwood to the centre of Croydon. There is a considerable volume of traffic on this road to which the school has a frontage. The school is approached on the one side directly following a bend, and on the other side the school is obscured by a hump-back railway bridge. Thus, from both approaches it is difficult to realise that there is a school in the vicinity and also a school patrol crossing. Traffic comes very fast from both directions and it would seem a normal, prudent requirement to offer warning lights to warn approaching drivers that the school crossing is just ahead.

The patrol cannot be moved. I understand that one of the objections made by the Department over the years is that the patrol should be moved to a better position more convenient in respect of traffic, but if the crossing patrol is moved to a different position it is likely that the children will ignore it and try to cross the road without making use of the patrol. That is not a situation which we should like to see.

The application has been made by the London Borough of Croydon. It is not a political matter because it has been supported to the hilt by the Greater London Council. Surely this is a case where local people have the best knowledge. It seems almost absurd that such an application should have to be made to the Department, and I hope this afternoon the Minister will announce, at long last, permission for these lights to be erected in the interests of childrens' safety.

5.10 p.m.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Taylor) for his brevity in putting forward his case. He knows the problems that some of us have, particularly on a Friday afternoon. He was brief, but he was also cogent. Perhaps I can give some background to the subject of the flashing amber lights. Twin flashing amber lights are sometimes used with the advance sign which warns of a school crossing patrol ahead. Their main purpose is to give an additonal warning to drivers where visibility on the approach is poor. The flashing lamps also help the person in charge of the crossing by making it less of a risk to break into the traffic stream, particularly where there is a speed limit above 40 mph or where gaps in the traffic flow occur infrequently.

It is important that the use and meaning of the warning should be consistent. Provision of the lamps is therefore generally restricted to sites where there is already a crossing patrol and where the job of the patrol warden would otherwise be too difficult. Thus, after seeing the flashing lights drivers can expect to find children making a supervised crossing of the road. The success of the lamps is in large measure due to their selective installation.

I fear that the story might be different if there were so many throughout the country that drivers no longer regarded them as emphasising particular dangers. This would inevitably reduce the lamps' value as a safety feature on our roads. I should perhaps therefore take this occasion to mention some of the instances where the use of the flashing lamps is unsuitable. These warning lamps should not be used where children cross unsupervised. Where a patrol warden is not available an exception may however be made if there are alternative arrangements for pedestrian supervision. Each case has to be examined on its merits in the light of local circumstances.

This question of supervision is a very important one, which is fundamental to the success or failure of the warning light system for school crossings.

Another situation in which they ought not to be used is in close proximity to other crossing places. Too many amber signals or signposts near each other are likely to confuse drivers and lead to irritation, a loss of concentration, and a higher risk of accidents. For that reason we have advised highway authorities that the flashing lamps warning of crossing patrols should not be installed within about 110 yards of traffic signals, pelican crossings or uncontrolled zebra crossings, all of which have amber lights. These flash at pelican and zebra crossings.

It may sometimes be perfectly all right to put flashing lights at one approach to a school crossing but not at the other. A typical case for treatment of that kind might be one where there is a bend on one side of the school, which reduces a driver's view of the road ahead, with a straight length of road en the other approach allowing a long, clear view. Highway authorities have been asked to bear in mind this kind of situation.

I should like to take this opportunity to stress the need to ensure that warning lights continue to work properly once they have been installed. There have been complaints that some signals were showing a steady light instead of a flashing one. Adequate maintenance is, of course, essential, and I think it would be a good idea if local authorities took advantage of the summer holiday period to do this work in preparation for the winter.

It may be asked whether the Department should be involved in authorising the provision of these flashing lamps at school crossing patrol sites. We have considered this and my right hon. Friend proposes that new traffic signs regulations should be laid before Parliament which would enable highway authorities to install the lamps in appropriate cases. They will, however, be advised to pay full regard to the criteria which I have mentioned. I am sure the House would agree that it would be a pity if the good results so far achieved were to be in any way undermined by indiscriminate installation.

I turn now to the particular local circumstances to which the hon. Member has draw attention. I hope that the House will bear with me while I outline the history of the case. Following general advice given by the Ministry of Transport in 1969 the London borough of Croydon made a survey of school crossing patrol sites in its area. It discussed with the Greater London Council and the Metropolitan Police the possibility of placing flashing lamps on the approaches to Whitehorse Manor School. Neither the Metropolitan Police nor the Greater London Council at the time supported the provision of such facilities at this site, and the matter was not further pursued. The London borough later considered providing a pelican crossing, but this could have been done only in substitution for a nearby zebra crossing some 130 yds. north of the crossing patrol point, and the council felt that moving the zebra crossing point would cause serious inconvenience to pedestrians not wishing to walk to the school.

On the morning of 28th September 1973 the patrol warden operating the school crossing patrol was involved in an accident and sustained personal injury, and two six-year-old children were also injured. Naturally, this accident caused a considerable amount of local feeling and the London borough council gave an undertaking that the possibility of installing flashing amber lights would be reexamined. It recommended to the Department that these be provided on both the northern and southern approaches to the crossing patrol site.

The Department considered the matter with due regard to the general criteria, to which I have already referred, and found that the required conditions were not met. There was no evidence to show that speeds near the school were excessive in relation to traffic conditions. Whilst visibility from the north was not ideal, flashing lights if provided would have well been within 120 ft. or so of the existing zebra crossing. Thus, installation of flashing lamps so close to the crossing would have tended to confuse drivers. It was suggested to the council in December 1973 that to improve visibility from the north they should move the patrol point to outside Nos. 363–365 Whitehorse Road. This would have entailed a small alteration to the guard railing outside the school.

This suggestion was considered by the council in conjunction with the GLC and the police, and in August 1974 we were informed by the GLC that it did not regard it as really practicable to move the patrol point because it would have been very close to a manufacturing concern, with the possibility of large lorries pulling up near the entrance in order to deliver or collect goods. It believed that in the morning it was safer to operate the school crossing from the west side of the road and that drivers coming from the north could not view this point satisfactorily. It supported the provision of flashing lights on the north side of the crossing only.

Officials of the Department immediately re-examined the site. For the reasons explained they could not give an authorisation but suggested that a "Slow" marking be provided on the approach to reinforce the warning signs and that the patrol point should be moved for a trial period.

On 20th June this year the London borough of Croydon informed the Department that whilst it noted our views it considered that the dangers to children at this crossing point justified provision of these warning lights as a special case. I can give some crumb of comfort to the hon. Gentleman. My officials are now considering these latest representations and will shortly be arranging a meeting with the local authorities and the police in a further attempt to reach an acceptable solution to this matter.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at seventeen minutes past Five o'clock.