Skip to main content

M11 (Service Area)

Volume 115: debated on Tuesday 5 May 1987

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Boscawen.]

My purpose in bringing this Adjournment debate to the House is, first, to beg the Minister to find another location for the motorway service area now that the airport at Stansted is to be expanded, and, secondly, to support the provision of a green belt around Bishop's Stortford to give the local council the only planning means of controlling housing and commercial development around Bishop's Stortford.

The motorway service area was located by the Department of Transport long before the Eyre report, which led to the Government's approval of the expansion of Stansted airport, originally proposed at 35 million passengers per annum and now happily restricted to 8 million passengers per annum after the strenuous efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst), myself and other hon. Members. Indeed, if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I hope that he will be allowed to take part in the debate.

The difficulties caused by the development of the airport and the need for Bishop's Stortford to control its development are very real. Within a few weeks of the declaration of the expansion of Stansted airport, East Herts district council had applications for over 12,000 houses to be built in Bishop's Stortford alone, leaving aside the applications made for developments in areas around Bishop's Stortford, including in areas as far south as Harlow, but including my hon. Friend's constituency of Saffron Walden. That means that we have a serious difficulty in controlling development in the area. If the motorway service area is established in the currently proposed location, it will urbanise the entire area between the town of Bishop's Stortford and the motorway and beyond to the airport. It has always been the ambition of those in our area to create a rural buffer zone between the motorway and the town and between the airport and the town. If this motorway service area is located as proposed, both ambitions will be sacrificed and it will be extremely difficult to impose any control over housing, commercial and industrial development in the area.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will say, "But I have received planning consent from the local councils" — East Hertfordshire district council and Hertfordshire and Essex county councils. He initially received that consent in 1981 before the development of the airport had been agreed. Consequently, because planning approval ran out, the proposal came forward for fresh approval. It was only because of my efforts and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden that the effects of the proposed 28-acre development on the environment were brought to councillors' attention. The East Hertfordshire district council considered the matter and submitted an objection under the compulsory purchase order for some of the land that my hon. Friend needs to build the motorway service area. On 5 February 1987, in a letter to the Department of the Environment from the director of planning of the East Hertfordshire district council, the council listed these reasons;
"It will effectively cause the coalescence of the eastern edge of the town of Bishop's Stortford and the airport.
It has long been the objective of my council to maintain an open area between the town and the M11. The development of a large motorway service area here will defeat this wish. The county structure plan review presently before the Secretary of State proposes an extension of the greenbelt around Bishop's Stortford. The construction of the MSA will be contrary to this intention. There are serious misgivings over the intention to have the MSA served from the Birchanger interchange as there is a risk of traffic congestion being caused on the A120, the nature of which as a bypass to Bishop's Stortford will be seriously compromised. The activity generated by the motorway service area will have a detrimental effect on the residential amenities of the nearby dwellings.
We understand that both Essex county council and Hertfordshire county council are troubled about the proposal from a traffic point of view and are re-appraising the proposal at the present time. This lends credence to the view that there is a considerable risk inherent in placing this facility in the position proposed. My council urges on the Secretary of State the need to review the whole principle of the motorway service area in this location and strongly suggests that an alternative site be investigated, possibly served directly from the M11 on its eastern side. If the Secretary of State concludes that he should hold a public local inquiry, my council will wish to have the opportunity to appear before it to expand these views and to add such additional comments relating to the planning issues as may be appropriate."
That is the considered view of the East Hertfordshire district council and of the two other councils from which I understand my hon. Friend the Minister has had approval.

I understand that my hon. Friend is reluctant to consider alternative sites because of the difficulties that he is likely to incur in terms of planning and getting approval. That is understandable, but I have asked him to consider this matter afresh because he received approval long before the airport was suggested. It flies in the face of common sense to intensify development and traffic congestion in that area and on the M11 where, I believe, there will be serious build-ups of traffic trying to use that interchange on its way to the airport and to the motorway service area.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will think afresh about these matters and that he will agree to an inquiry in relation to the compulsory purchase order. That will be the only opportunity for the district council, the county councils, the environmentalists and the town dwellers of Bishop's Stortford truly to put forward their considered views and objections to this proposal. I hope that my hon. Friend will ensure that he considers those views. I am sure that when he sees the commonsense reasons why this development should not occur, he will change his mind. If my hon. Friend insists that there must be this interchange, I would very much regret that. But I suggest that my hon. Friend place the motorway service area on the other side of the interchange, in the airport area, because there is a large acreage there and it would not impinge on residential development in Bishop's Stortford.

With only a fence and perhaps a few trees separating them, my constituents would have lorries parked overnight — possibly refrigerated lorries having their motors running the whole time—and the area would no doubt be brightly lit to prevent burglaries and other crime. This development is totally unacceptable close to a residential area. The whole problem would be solved if it were put on the airport land, and that would help the airport to develop.

There are other locations for this development. There is one, for example, at an interchange at Harlow—if my right hon. Friend insists on it being at an interchange—and a new interchange is proposed north of Harlow. In any event, the Department is ill-advised to site this at interchanges. It should adhere to the original policy of establishing areas such as this independent of other roads so that they serve the motorway and the motorway alone. If this service area is to go ahead, lorry parking should be taken out of the town of Bishop's Stortford and located in the area, but that is not in the Minister's current proposals.

I shall conclude, giving an opportunity to my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden to contribute to the debate. I trust the Minister will take the points I have made seriously into account when replying to the debate.

11.52 pm

Order. Does the hon. Member have the Minister's consent to intervene as well as that of his hon. Friend?

Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) for raising this matter. He and I have fought an almost lone battle to have further close consideration given to the issue since it was overtaken, as it were, by the decision to expand the airport.

The proposal for a service area on the M11 has been around for a long time and obviously needed resolution, but it so happened that the more complex question of the airport overtook it, and that was decided, yet a final decision on the motorway service area has not been taken. It seems incredible, in the light of the airport decision, that the Minister should still consider the Birchanger interchange to be the right place for this development. It would be tempting Providence to attract to that one interchange so much potential traffic.

The Minister has carefully answered representations that I have made about the statistical evidence that has been made available and forecasts that have been examined by officials of his Department and that suggest that perhaps my fears are exaggerated. While one never wishes to treat lightly scientific and objective evidence in matters such as this, one must point out that the statistical evidence and forecasting of the Department of Transport have not always been spectacularly accurate.

I recall a predecessor of the Minister arguing in defence of a view taken by the Department that the proposed A1-M1 link could in places satisfactorily be a single carriageway. I am glad that that view has been abandoned. One must balance statistics with a degree of common sense. It is hoping too much to believe that this one intersection could bear the weight of traffic that is likely to be on it, in the light not only of it being the direct access point in the foreseeable future to the airport, but of the Secretary of State taking the commendable decision to trunk the A120. That means, regardless of the airport, that his decision recognises that the A120 will become an ever more important east-west route. Thus, traffic will be bearing down on this interchange from all points of the compass. To add an entrance to and exit from a motorway service area is a proposal which should be tested more objectively than simply by the statisticians of the Department of Transport.

Secondly, I support the fears that have been expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford about the separation of the urban development at Bishop's Stortford and the airport. Those fears will be echoed by my constituents in the parish of Birchanger, which adjoins the area. They, too, fear that what is a green and pleasant band will be closed by urbanisation if the motorway service area is situated where it is presently intended to be. It is proposed to put a commercial honeypot too near to another one, and there is no doubt that the bees will swarm all round. It will be difficult for the planning authorities, in the wake of the airport and the motorway service area, to defend any sort of rural belt in the area. If they fail to do that, they will be flying in the face of the general undertakings that the Government have honourably given in their airports White Paper about the protection of the environment in the area that we are discussing.

That is why we urge my hon. Friend the Minister to reconsider the matter. It is recognised that there is inconvenience to the travelling public if a motorway service area is not provided on the M11 in the near future. Traffic usage has increased and a service area facility is needed. However, it is to take too great a risk to plough ahead regardless now that other decisions have been taken. I join my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford, whom I thank for allowing me to take part in this short debate, in pressing for a public inquiry so that we may have an objective examination of the issues. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will accede to that.

11.56 pm

I had not realised that it was possible for a Minister to object to an hon. Member who had not initiated an Adjournment debate contributing to it. I shall remember that in future.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) has chosen a good day to initiate this debate. It is today that the Department of Transport has released a booklet on transport and the environment, a document which covers roads, rail, the ports and air movements. The page on which air traffic is addressed reveals that the number of passengers has grown and that the number of those affected by the noise and number index, which is the Department's way of giving a proxy indication of the effect of air traffic movements, has declined. It appears that the degree of disturbance is reducing. This is also the day when I went to Prestwick on a BA146, which is known as the "Quiet Trader". It is almost a whisper jet. On the runway it creates less noise than that which is required in the implementation of a new road scheme to enable a nearby houseowner to obtain provision for double glazing. Over the years we shall see noisy jets replaced by substantially quieter aircraft, which will be welcomed in the constituency of Hertford and Stortford and in many others that are near to airports.

My hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) has contributed to the debate and I hope to reply to as many of the detailed points that he raised as possible within the time that remains available to me. I hope that those who are present in the Chamber will forgive me if I observe that there is not one member of the alliance parties in his or her place this evening. With the exception of yourself, Mr. Deputy Speaker, there is no representative of the official Opposition in the Chamber. It seems that we have environment and transport to ourselves this evening.

Order. I do not represent any party in the House. I am neutral and impartial.

Having read reviews of the book entitled "Faith in Politics", Mr. Deputy Speaker, I think that we would all make that claim. I have made the claim that I wanted to make Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I bow to your ruling on and correction of any imputation that I may have made about you.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford raised a number of issues and I think that it will be best for me to pass some of them to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. I do not think that I am competent to talk about housing development around my hon. Friend's constituency, though I recognise that there are pressures for house building in areas such as the one that he represents. I do not know whether that will boost his majority in any general election that may come, and as the issue is one that is slightly outside my remit I shall choose to adhere to the transport elements of the issue that my hon. Friend has raised.

In some respects my hon. Friend has asked me to prejudge the issues that he hopes will be raised at a public inquiry. Both he and my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden have asked whether I can give a commitment to a public inquiry, and I do so. There will be a public inquiry into the motorway service area proposal. I know that that will come as relief to some and welcome news to others. An announcement that I intended to withdraw the proposal altogether might be even more welcome, but I do not intend to make it. I wish to say that bluntly to my hon. Friends. If we have an independent, impartial inspector hearing our case and the cases of my hon. Friends and others who are objecting to the proposal, there will be confidence that, if the proposal goes ahead, it will be only after an independent, impartial inspector has heard the evidence and listened to the arguments.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford suggested one or two other places where there might be—in his view—more suitable locations for the motorway service area. I do not want to go into detail about other areas. We believe that we have picked the appropriate place and quadrant of the interchange. It would also be inappropriate if I went on at length to claim that there are some protections on continuous development. I understand that there is a golf course between the proposed MSA site and Bishop's Stortford.

If there is no golf course, my eyes have been misleading me. I have seen a photograph of what looked suspiciously like bunkers on the other side of the MSA area.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford has said that my argument and my facts are partly correct.

My hon. Friend also raised the matter of lorry parking. No one wants unsuitable heavy vehicles stopping overnight in Bishop's Stortford or any other town or village nearby when it is possible for vehicles to be placed in lorry bays in an MSA. If the MSA is eventually situated at Birchanger, there should be an appropriate number of such bays. We have suggested to the operators that instead of the normal 50 bays there should be 85. That would allow greater control over lorries that might otherwise be placed in Bishop's Stortford. I hope that that will be some comfort to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford and my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden.

My hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden referred to the Department of Transport's forecasting. I have spent some time in industry and commerce. In every area in which I have worked, we have made forecasts. The Department of Transport makes its forecasts public. If we consider how our forecasts have stood up to events, we find that they have not done too badly. We were surprised in some places, and we have over-estimated the amount of traffic in some areas and under-estimated it in others. However, in general we do pretty well. We can hold our heads up among any set of forecasters.

I have news for some of the pollsters who have been considering political affairs over the past few years. I suspect that some of their forecasts or polls have changed faster than the underlying views, although I suspect that they are becoming more accurate the nearer they get to the last year of this Parliament.

I am grateful for the welcome that my hon. Friends have given to the Government's White Paper on roads, produced last week, which refers to trunking at least part of the A120. Trunking a road makes no significant difference to the amount of traffic. However, it makes a difference to the source of funding for improvements. One reason why there has been such a good welcome for the proposal from Essex and Hertfordshire is that the money will come directly from the taxpayer rather than from part-funding from the taxpayer and the ratepayer, as might otherwise have happened. It may also mean that other schemes that the councils have set their hearts upon may not have to be delayed by giving greater priority to the needs of the A120. I make that point because some of my constituents may read the reports of this debate. They saw the GLC spend a lot of money before its welcome abolition, claiming that as soon as the Department of Transport trunked a road, it automatically became a dual carriageway overnight. The truth is that 60 per cent. of our trunk roads are single carriageways and an awful lot of them will remain single carriageways. I am not offering that prospect for the A120, but I want people to know that trunking does not automatically lead to a massive increase in traffic or to major spending in the short term.

We must use that quality to which my hon. Friends referred—common sense. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said in a television broadcast that was repeated on each channel this evening, common sense is basically Conservative policy. If we can mix that with giving people a democratic right to object to or oppose the Department's proposals, we are likely to make progress. Even if all people are not satisfied, they will know that they have at least had their day in court or that there has been a public inquiry at which they have been able to put their views.

It may be worth reminding the House that it is our policy to provide MSAs at approximately 30-mile intervals at the moment so that the needs, comfort and safety of travellers can be catered for. Our present programme is to provide 20 new MSAs to fill gaps in the existing network, and on new motorways. The new sites will provide the standard range of facilities such as parking, toilets, refreshments, fuel and telephones 24 hours a day. We also look for the capacity to meet traffic demand well into the 21st century.

To those who believe that people should not travel around by car, it is worth saying that there are 3 million provisional licence holders in this country, of whom 2 million are female. Therefore, instead of the car being the toy of the rich white male, there are a growing number of women driving, as well as a growing number of pensioners, and members of the ethnic minorities. As the Secretary of State said in a recent speech, it is just as important to cater for the needs of the person running a mark 1 Cortina in, say, Brixton as it is for the person running a new Montego in Watford.

The MSA sites are necessary because, where such services are not available on the motorway, travellers will seek them in nearby communities, causing congestion and thus losing many of the benefits of the motorway. The MSA sites are selected by consultants' study or other means, and account is taken of planning, environmental and traffic grounds, as well as costs and suitability.

As my hon. Friend said, Birchanger was selected in 1980 after consultation with East Hertfordshire and Uttlesford district councils, and with Hertfordshire and Essex county councils. Alternatives were considered in other quadrants of the M11-A120 junction. We consider that the present site in the south-west quadrant is the best. It is near the mid-point of the M11, offers services to east-west traffic on the A120, and will provide back-up for the MSAs that are coming on the M25.

Outline planning clearance was given in 1980 and renewed by all four interested local authorities in 1985. In 1985 they also had the opportunity to reconsider the proposal in relation to the decision on Stansted airport. Draft compulsory purchase orders for land acquisition for the MSA and the road diversion scheme were issued in January 1987. Twenty six objections were lodged, including one from my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford and another from East Hertfordshire district council, which agreed planning clearance in 1985 but has now revised its views.

As I have said, an inquiry is considered appropriate and will be held later this year. Objectors will have ample opportunity to make their case, and to test that of the Department, before an independent inspector.

All new MSA sites are carefully landscaped and screened by trees and other planting with bund walls—earth mounds—where appropriate to minimise environmental intrusion. At Birchanger, landscaping would be undertaken in and on the edge of the site to minimise visual and noise intrusion and light at night. From a visit that I paid, I seem to remember that the site lies in part at least, between the M11 and the golf course, on land that slopes down to the motorway, and that, in itself, will help screening. Investigations—by which I mean the use of my own eyes as well as of the advice that I am given—show no housing in the immediate area, and the golf course provides a buffer to the nearest housing concentration. Of course, the immediate area may be slightly more extensive to my hon. Friend than it is to myself.

We take environmental issues seriously, which is one of the reasons why we produced our booklet on "Transport and the Environment", which will be welcomed by many of my hon Friends' constituents. If they have not been able to get a copy, they should let me know and I shall happily send them one. It is something of which the Department can be proud. We do not claim that we have got everything right, but certainly during the past seven or eight years we have made dramatic improvements. There is not nearly as much controversy over roads and associated schemes as there was during the 1970s.

We have learned, but I think that some of the objectors have learned also. People may often find that there are things for which they can argue if they have had the experience of reading "Transport and the Environment" and perhaps they can also give them more publicity. I am not suggesting that badger tunnels and toad holes are the answer to motorway service areas, but they show the breadth of our environmental concerns. It is worth noting that we are the largest planter of trees for amenity purposes in the country — second only to the Forestry Commission.

I am grateful to my hon. Friends for raising the subject of the motorway service area. Obviously, the development of Stansted will bring some changes to the local area. There will be safe areas for foreseeable traffic demand both from the M11 and the A120, and we propose two accesses to the motorway service area.

My hon. Friends rightly reflect some of the worries of their constituents. By the time the inquiry is completed, people will understand how well they are represented in the House and how far the Conservative party appears to have a monopoly of concern in this area.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at ten minutes past Twelve o'clock.