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Roads (Huntingdonshire)

Volume 927: debated on Monday 7 March 1977

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3.50 p.m.

I am grateful for this opportunity to refer briefly, under Class VI, Vote 1, Sub-Head A2, to road building in my constituency, especially the carrying out of a major road improvement between Cambridge and Godmanchester along the line of the A604, which has become an increasingly important east-west traffic route between the East Coast ports and the Midlands.

The need to turn this road into a dual carriageway has been under consideration for more than seven years. In my remarks I want to help the Eastern Road Construction Unit, with which I have crossed swords in the past and with some of whose major decisions I am still in disagreement. On this occasion I want to help the unit to get its priorities right, to save money and farmland, and to protect the environment and the quality of life in my constituency, especially in the large village of Fenstanton.

I am glad to see the Under-Secretary of State for Transport present on the Front Bench this afternoon. I am sorry that he has been given such short notice of this debate. I cannot possibly expect a long or detailed reply to the points that I shall be making, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bear them in mind. The action taken as a result of this debate will decide what further action I may find it necessary to try to take at a later stage.

Some 15 or 20 years ago a perfectly good bypass, with very wide verges, was built at Fenstanton. Presumably the verges were made wide with a view to the possibility of enlargement at a later stage. Unfortunately, the line chosen for the bypass then split the main part of Fenstanton from its southern outskirts, but the people living to the south of the village were able to maintain contact with the main village because special arrangements had been made for pedestrians and traffic to cross the road.

That bypass has had and still has the great advantage of making the old, long, narrow village street fairly free from traffic. However, unfortunately it is now proposed to turn that bypass into a slip road as part of the arrangements for making the new A604 into a two-lane dual carriageway and, instead of using the bypass as it is and widening it slightly and perhaps straightening it a little, it is proposed to take quite a big loop, bigger than the present loop, which will take up a fair amount of farmland. This loop will be about 300 yards long and it is being extended eastwards from the eastern end of the bypass. It is proposed to do that so as to make the A604 into a straighter road.

It must be accepted that by not having a bypass far to the south—I will come to that possibility in a moment; I concede that that one has gone past—the people living to the south will be even more cut off from the main village than they were before, because with a dual carriageway we must reconcile ourselves to fast and an ever-increasing volume of traffic.

There will be extra expense involved in the construction that is proposed, namely, by turning the present bypass into a slip road and building another bypass immediately adjoining and to the south of it, and by extending it for 300 yards eastwards. I suggest that that will involve unnecessary expense and the unnecessary use of farmland. It would be much better to make the fullest possible use of the present bypass.

It was suggested some years ago by Fenstanton Parish Council that an entirely new bypass well to the south of the whole of the village should be built to avoid disturbance. It might have cost more, and it might have used even more farmland than is now proposed, but now that we see what is proposed, both in the proposals that I have described and in the proposals that I am about to describe as regards the side roads, we must recognise that the route to the south might have been better.

I hope that even at this late stage the proposal that I have described for the line of this trunk road, where it comes along adjacent to where the bypass is, can be dropped. No new notices would be needed, as I understand it, and therefore no delay involved, because the widening of the present bypass could take place under the present trunk road order and, indeed, would save the compulsory purchase of a great deal of land which it is now proposed to take.

My other complaint relates to the draft side roads order as it affects Fenstanton. There are five main matters of complaint that Fenstanton Parish Council has put forward. There are other minor complaints, with which I will not trouble the House.

I cannot refrain from saying that this is one of those rare cases when one could make one's views much more clear to the House if one could only point to a map, but our procedure does not permit that, so I must do my poor best without a map.

The first main complaint is that the Hilton Road is to be shut off completely. That is the road that goes to a village to the south of the southern part of Fenstanton. The closing of that road will have the strange effect that all buses —a considerable number of them—will have to go right into Fenstanton main street, turn round and go right out the same way. Secondly, there will be a great increase in traffic on the High Street and 90 per cent. of it will have to use the eastern exit only.

Next, there is to be a flyover built at the western end of the village. That may be unavoidable, but it will certainly be expensive. Fourth, there is to be a big piece of ground formed between the present bypass and the proposed new line of the bypass that I have described, and this will, in effect, create a sterilised area of no use for farming. This is the sort of land that will lend itself to fill-in development, since one cannot see what other good use could be made of it, but if ever there were a place where fill-in development would be inappropriate this is it.

Finally—this is also a matter of public interest there is at Fenstanton a coach station of the Whippet Bus Company. As a result of the side roads order the buses would have to do 1,000 miles more a year, and this would no doubt increase the cost of the service.

Thus, the side roads order would be an expensive scheme to put into operation. It would create disturbance and noise again in the High Street, which has been remarkably free from both ever since the present bypass was built. 1 hope, therefore, that there can be second thoughts about the whole of this scheme. I cannot believe that it is beyond the ingenuity even of the Eastern Road Construction Unit to think of something simpler and cheaper which will create less disturbance.

I make two constructive proposals. First, any money saved on this scheme could be well spent on matters that have been urgent for years in that corner of my constituency. At St. Ives there is a major road that has to cross a bridge. It is a beautiful little bridge, with a chapel on it, but it is 600 years old, with only one lane of traffic, and it is quite unsuited for modern needs. For the past 15 years one has had to consider what line a relief road and new bridge should take. It has now been decided that there should be one, and that it should go well to the east of St. Ives, but the need is urgent.

My second constructive proposal is far more modest, though none the less essential. The recent heavy rains which have swollen the River Great Ouse to such an extent have emphasised the need for it. At Earith, where the main road into the Isle of Ely crosses the River Great Ouse, there are two bridges, separated by only about 80 yards of causeway between them. Those two bridges were rebuilt in recent years, but, unfortunately, when they were rebuilt the causeway was not built up to a proper level, with the result that the causeway is flooded every time there is any flooding in the area. Any money saved at Fenstanton could be used on that alone, and it would do a great public service.

The priorities, therefore, I suggest, are these: first, there should be a rethinking of what is proposed for the Fenstanton bypass and the side roads; second, there should be a firm declaration as to when St. Ives will have its new bridge instead of the 600-year-old single carriage way bridge now being used; third—this is the easiest, though perhaps the most important in certain respects—the causeway should be built up between the two bridges at Earith.

4.4 p.m.

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) fox raising the question of the improvement of the A604 between Girton and Godmanchester and, in particular, the section relating to the Fenstanton bypass. In company with the right hon. and learned Gentleman, I regret that we cannot have an illuminated screen—perhaps above Mr. Speaker's Chair—on which maps and other matters of interest could be shown to illustrate the roads under discussion. It is difficult to explain what one has in mind without some means of illustration, but, like the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who did it rather well, I thought. I shall do my best to overcome that disadvantage.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has for many years taken an interest in this route, as I know from having studied the correspondence, and has directed attention in particular to the routes of the A14 and A604 within his constituency. I know that he is concerned about the effect of the Fenstanton bypass and the claim on agricultural land which it will entail, although he very fairly pointed out that the original proposal—which he, among others, I believe, advocated—for a bypass much further south would perhaps have taken even more agricultural land if it had been finally chosen as the route.

Before doing my best to answer the detailed points raised by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, perhaps I should try to put the matter in perspective by saying that the proposed improvement of the A604 between Godmanchester and Bar Hill near Cambridge forms an important part of the new high standard route between East London and the north of England via the M11, part of which is now completed. I refer here to the route via the A604, the A14 and the Al. Part of the M11 has been built, and the section between Redbridge and north of Bishops Stortford will be open for traffic in the spring. We hope to let contracts for the section from north of Bishops Stortford to Stump Cross and the Cam- bridge western bypass—this will be of interest to the right hon. and learned Gentleman—this summer.

The A604 Huntingdon—Godmanchester bypass has been open to traffic for some time, and the improvement of the section between Girton and Bar Hill to the east of Fenstanton is under construction. The part which we are talking about, therefore, will be the last link in a rather important chain of high standard dual carriageway road running basically from the Al in the north down to Last London. It is therefore a very important route.

There is also a certain amount of cross traffic via the A45 which will ultimately go via the Cambridge northern bypass and will take traffic from the Midlands down towards Ipswich. Again, therefore, it is important in considering the justification for the Fenstanton bypass to recognise that there is here an important crossroads and, what is more, a crossroads between growing areas.

Proposals for the trunking and improvement of the A604 between Godmanchester and Girton were published in 1971 and at a public inquiry held in 1972 the Fenstanton Parish Council put forward an alternative route for the Fenstanton bypass to the south of the line now proposed. That was the alternative proposal to which I have already referred, but it was rejected by the independent inspector in favour of the route which we are now discussing.

I assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that, although he may not like the the route finally chosen, it has been designed to make as little claim as possible on agricultural land and to make the fullest possible use of the existing road. It is only at the village of Fenstanton that it departs from the existing road, so it is clear that an effort has been made to improve matters along the existing alignment, which I believe to be fundamentally right if one can do it without too much demolition of property alongside the road and so on.

The reason for having another bypass as opposed to improving the existing bypass is that, although the existing bypass has wide verges, its alignment is not satisfactory in that it is rather curved for the volumes of traffic which the road improved as I have dscribed will have to take. I think that the estimate is that there will be an increase of traffic of about 87 per cent. up to 1995—a very large increase—and we are talking here of approximately 29,000 vehicles a day. Obviously, those are only approximate figures, and one would not wish to be judged on them, but that is the sort of magnitude. That is why we cannot simply improve the Fenstanton bypass, with its unsatisfactory curves and the roads coming into it from the village, and leave it at that.

This is the sort of problem which we have had with the existing Fenstanton bypass. The road from the village itself goes into the main road, and it is not possible to get rid of that junction without the sort of realignment which we have on the new road. These are basically the reasons why we have to go for the solution proposed. It is really a matter of the volume of traffic expected to use the road once all the sections are complete.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman talked about further isolation of the people living to the south of the village as a result of these additional improvements. One can see that that is likely to be the case. Nevertheless, if we had just improved the existing bypass, the people near it would have complained of the noise of the additional traffic. So it is very much a swings and roundabouts situation, as so often happens with road improvements. While the new scheme may have the disadvantage of isolating slightly further people to the south of the village, people slightly to the north of the village will be grateful for the lessening of traffic noise which they will get with the building of the new bypass.

Members of the Eastern Road Construction Unit met the parish council and villagers recently. I hope that it was a constructive meeting. Judging by the reports I have received, the matter was thoroughly discussed and many detailed questions were gone into at considerable length. There was a thorough airing of the various complaints. There will be a public inquiry into the side-road orders which will provide further opportunities for these detailed points to be raised. So we are not at the end of the road in talking about the problems which will arise from the new bypass.

The closing of the Hilton road would, according to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, bring more buses into he village of Fenstanton. That may well be so, but I do not think that the increase would necessarily be significant. It may be possible to avoid their going through the heart of the village. One wants to achieve that, if it is possible, and one will certainly work towards that end. I understand that schemes are being considered whereby buses approaching from the east in particular may be able to avoid the heart of the village. That point also applies to the Whippet coaches. We could possibly reduce the impact on the village by a sensible scheme which will at least avoid the heart of the village itself.

Whippet Coaches moved into its present site in 1974, well after all these details about the new road proposals were well known—a factor which must be borne in mind when considering these problems.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman raised two other points in this context which I would like to study, and if there is anything further I can add I will write to him. He had in mind, for example, the in-fill problem between the old and the new bypasses, and I shall study it.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that we should concentrate effort instead of two alternative schemes. The first of these was the St. Ives bridge. I can see that it is an extremely unsatisfactory road. I know it myself, as I know Fenstanton village and the bypass. Last Monday, I had a meeting with the chairman of the transportation committee of the Cambridgeshire County Council, when we talked about various problems of the county. We went into the question of the St. Ives bridge, and I undertook to look into the matter carefully with a view to making the maximum possible progress, although it is subject to the moratorium that we now have. But I will bear in mind what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said and what I was told at my meeting last Monday.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman's second alternative concerned the Earith road. That is a county scheme. I accept that a problem has arisen as a result of the improvement of the two bridges, with the causeway now being too low. But it is fundamentally a matter for the county's own priorities. Again, however, it is something that we might take up in the context of the informal discussions that I have had with the county council. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment was also in Cambridgeshire recently, so we are all well aware of the problems in that area, and we will take on board what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said today.