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House of Commons

Friday 23 February 1990

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock

PRAYERS

[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]

PETITIONS

Road-Tunnel (Chiswick)

9.34 am

Sir Barney Hayhoe (Brentford and Isleworth) : I beg leave to present a petition, organised by Chiswick community council, and signed by 13,429 people who are resolutely opposed to the building of a road or tunnel from Chiswick to Wandsworth plan, set out in option 12 of the West London assessment study.

Over 1,600 more people have signed the petition than signed a similar petition against a surface road, which I presented last April. That plan was rejected and so, too, must this manifestly unwelcome and ill-conceived road-tunnel option be rejected. Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your honourable House urges the Right Honourable Cecil Parkinson, MP, the Secretary of State for Transport, to dismiss from consideration all proposals for new road or tunnel building in Chiswick, in the light of the major damage to the environment and local community life that roads and tunnels would cause, and instead to consider traffic restraint and improvements to public transport.

And your Petitioners as in duty bound, will ever pray, &c. To lie upon the Table.

East London Assessment Study

9.36 am

Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury) : I have pleasure in presenting 37 petitions on behalf of my constituents and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) and for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson). They all relate to the East London assessment study proposals for a major new highway from Archway to King's Cross and the City. All the petitions and the signatories, numbering some 4,000 in all, are completely opposed to the road-building proposals in the East London assessment study report.

I have a petition from the residents of Brewers buildings, who point out that the roads will destroy the quality of life, will increase pollution and will increase road traffic, and that a greater risk of accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists will ensue. They go on to say :

Your petitioners pray that your honourable House will, without delay, urge the Secretary of State for Transport to withdraw the ELAS road proposals, and to substitute them with traffic restraint and calming schemes and with a fully integrated transport policy for the United Kingdom, which will include massive Government investment in all forms of public transport, thus enabling the current high cost of fares to be reduced to a reasonable level, and by so doing rendering the use of public transport in London a more attractive and cheaper option than the use of the private car.

Those are sentiments with which I entirely agree.


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There is a petition from the residents of Church Garth and St. John's road pointing out the destruction that the roads will cause to the environment.

There is a petition from the residents of Windermere road demonstrating that they, too, believe that the new road will cause severe destruction of their lives.

There is a petition from the residents of Witley road. They believe that the East London assessment study will threaten their homes with demolition.

There is a petition from the residents of Brunswick terrace and elsewhere. They believe that the road proposals will be harmful to the community affected.

There is a petition from the residents of Yerbury road. They believe that the road proposals will destroy their local environment.

There is a petition from the residents of Barton road, Dalmeny road and Camden road. They believe that the proposals will destroy homes and businessess.

There is a petition from the residents of Haywood Lodge in Hilldrop crescent saying that they believe there will be more road accidents and more pollution and danger to pedestrians and motorists. There is a petition from residents of Pemberton gardens, Pauntley street and other roads. They believe that the road proposals will lead to greater lead levels in the atmosphere and in the air that they and their children have to breathe.

There is a petition from residents of Holloway road, Holly park and Cornwallis road. They believe that the health and well-being, especially of children, parents and teachers in the schools immediately affected, will be seriously damaged.

There is a petition from residents of St. John's grove and elsewhere. They believe that the proposals for road building will be detrimental and harmful to the community.

There is a petition from residents of Davenant road, Fairbridge road and elsewhere. They believe that the widening of Holloway road will reduce, and in some cases eliminate, green space available for public recreation.

There is a petition from residents of Tufnell Park road, Fairbridge road and elsewhere. They believe that recreational facilities and the livelihoods of employees will be destroyed.

There is a petition from residents of Rickthorne road and Stanley terrace. They believe that the amenities and environment of their community will be harmed and destroyed.

There is a petition from residents of Hornsey road, Clifton court and elsewhere. They believe that the road proposals will be detrimental to the health of their children.

There is a petition from residents of Sussex way. They believe that the road proposals will make their lives miserable, and will devastate the community in which they live and work.

There is a petition from residents of Bovingdon close. They believe that more pollution and a decline in their quality of life will result from the road proposals.

There is a petition from residents of Elthorne road. They believe that increases in noise and pollution will result from the road. There is a petition from residents of Tollington way. They believe that the road proposals will be detrimental to their environment, their community and their amenities.


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There is a petition from residents of Holloway road and elsewhere. They believe that the road proposals will involve the loss of their neighbourhood and community.

There is a petition from residents of Yerbury road. They believe that the road will destroy their community and amenities. There is a petition from residents of Highwood road. They believe that noise and pollution will increase.

There is a petition from residents of St. John's way. They believe that the road would cause great disturbance to them and their lives. There is a petition from residents of Partington close. They believe that the road proposals will not accord with any of their wishes and decisions for their local neighbourhood.

There is a petition from residents of Mercer's road and Holloway road. They believe that the proposals will involve the demolition of homes and places of work.

There is a petition from residents of Kingsdown road, and teachers and parents at Acland Burghley school. They believe that the road proposals will directly affect their local community.

There is a petition from residents of Junction road and Davenant road. They believe that the road works will disrupt their local services, destroy their local community and work places and pollute their environment.

There is a petition from residents of Yerbury road, Sussex close and Wedmore street. They believe that the schemes will be very detrimental to their community, and will increase traffic. There is a petition from residents of Fairbridge road, St. John's grove and Marlborough road. They believe that the ELAS scheme will be detrimental, and urge the Secretary of State to abandon it. There is a petition from residents of Church Garth. They believe that the demolition of local shops, churches and homes will result from the road proposals.

There is a petition from residents of Fairbridge road. They believe that traffic noise and lead pollution will increase.

There is a petition from residents of Miranda road. They believe that shoppers and residents will be affected detrimentally. There is a petition from residents of Fairmead road and Dunmow walk. They believe that the road scheme should be abandoned. There is a petition from the residents of Eburne road. They believe that the road proposals will be harmful to their environment. There is a petition from residents of Newcommon house, Sussex way, Hornsey road and Gladsmuir road. They believe, especially as parents of children attending St. John's Church of England primary school in Upper Holloway, that the widening of Holloway road would be severely detrimental to the health and welfare of their children.

There is a petition from residents of Holloway road and Axminster road. They believe that the road proposals will affect their homes and businesses and inflict blight on their area.

Finally, there is a petition from residents of Trinder road, Henfield close, Lady Margaret road and elsewhere, together with pupils and teachers at the Islington sixth


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form centre. They believe that the road proposals would harm their area as a place in which to work and be educated.

All those petitioners are wholly opposed to the ELAS road proposals. They represent thousands of others who feel exactly the same, and I hope that the Secretary of State for Transport will take due notice of the anger, dismay and distress felt by my constituents.

To lie upon the Table.

9.45 am

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : I join my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) in presenting 51 petitions from residents of my constituency and his, and from Holborn and St. Pancras, Hackney, North and Stoke Newington and Hackney, South and Shoreditch. All the petitions concern the Government's proposals to construct a major road from Archway to King's Cross, which would destroy the homes of some 2,000 people and a large number of local jobs, and would create a concrete canyon through our borough. The proposals are bitterly opposed by all the people who have signed the petitions, and by many people who have written to us. Not one person in my borough has at any stage expressed support for the scheme put forward by the Department of Transport through the consultants.

Let me quote from one of the petitions :

The Humble Petition of General Practitioners serving the communities of Islington which will be affected by the ELAS road widening proposals, sheweth

That the ELAS road widening proposals, will adversely affect the physical, psychological and social health of these communities for the following reasons : 1. the loss of homes will exacerbate the housing crisis, and disrupt community ties ; 2. the loss of community facilities such as churches and shops will remove important support structures ; 3. the widened roads will act as barriers, promoting increased fragmentation and isolation within the community ; 4. increased atmospheric and noise pollution ; 5. probable increase in road accidents.

Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your honourable House will urge the Secretary of State for Transport to abandon the road widening schemes and increase investment in public transport. And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.

I have a further 50 petitions in front of me. One is from the residents of Fortnam road and Davenant road, explaining why their homes and businesses will be destroyed. Another, from Salterton road, says the same, as does a petition from one person, Mr. Michael Channon. I also have a substantial petition which was presented to me at a public meeting, signed by some 1,300 people who attended the meeting. That is a measure of the feeling against the scheme. I have a petition from the residents of St. John's grove in Upper Holloway--indeed, a number of petitions have come from them- -concerning the harm that the construction of the road will do to their community, and another from residents of Kiver road, which is alongside the proposed development. I have a substantial petition with some 1,200 signatures, collected during a very short time at the Nag's Head shopping centre, explaining that the road options will be detrimental to shopping and the community in general.

I have a petition from people who use a local shop, the Wellcare pharmacy on the Holloway road, saying that they rely on the pharmacy for prescriptions for the many elderly people who live in that community. I also have a substantial petition from parents and students of Islington


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as a whole, which describes the harm that will be done because of the difficulty of walking around the borough. Children and students will find it hard to get to school.

There is a petition from residents of Marlborough road, part of which would be destroyed by the construction of this major highway through the centre of the borough.

I have a petition from the residents of Giesbach road N19, which would also be partially destroyed by the construction of this major road.

There is a petition from the students of the Polytechnic of North London, which is alongside Holloway road and which would suffer from the proposals and lose some of its teaching facilities.

There is a petition from the members of the Baptist housing association and the Upper Holloway Baptist Church local project team, which demonstrates that a housing project--of 17 flats for elderly people and 24 for frail elderly people which is at present being constructed, after enormous efforts by the members of the Upper Holloway Baptist Church and which is not yet finished and opened, with no residents in place--is to be destroyed before it has even been completed, to make way for a major road. That is deeply resented by the members of the Church. I join them in their resentment. I hope that the Secretary of State will listen carefully to what is said on behalf of the Church.

I have also a substantial petition from Highgate nursery school, the children of which live in the area. It demonstrates that the construction of the road would be detrimental to the environment, by exposing children to intolerable levels of noise and air pollution. Air pollution is already a serious problem in the community. There is a petition from the users of the Manor Garden centre, which was founded in 1908 by people who wanted to provide decent health care for the working class communities in my constituency. It says that it will lessen pedestrian safety for all those who use the centre, notably the young, the aged and the disabled. Once again they pray that the Secretary of State for Transport will reject the proposals.

The people who use the Hercules street dining rooms have petitioned this House to show that the road would be detrimental to the environment in their community. Many of the people who live in my constituency are in bed- sit accommodation and rely on facilities such as those provided by the Hercules street dining rooms to provide themselves with a decent meal every day.

I have a petition from the residents of 9 Hargrave road. It says that the road proposals would be detrimental to the local environment, that their road would be subject to increased pollution and that the quality of their lives would be impaired as a result. The residents of Gatcombe road say that the East London assessment study proposals for the improvement of traffic management in north-east London will not alleviate the problem and that it will be detrimental to the environment of Holloway.

There is a further petition from the residents of St. John's villas, No19. It says that the demolition of local houses and shops and noise and lead pollution, due to the widening of the Holloway road, would reduce and impair the environment of the people who live in that street.

I have a petition from the patrons of a number of businesses in Hercules street, where a new housing development has just been opened by the Holloway tenants co-operative. There are a number of small clothing factories in that street. The petition says that the


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environment will be made worse because of noise, dirt, vibration, fumes and danger from traffic and that their livelihoods will be adversely affected.

There is a petition from the residents of Kingsdown road, who will also be affected by the proposal.

There are many more petitions. I shall not refer to them all, but a few of them merit consideration and should be mentioned in the House. The residents of Hatchard road say that the ELAS proposals would be detrimental to the environment of the people who live in the road. Virtually every resident in Duncombe road N19 has petitioned the House not to allow the Secretary of State for Transport to ruin their environment and community by the construction of this major road. The residents of Mulkern road consider that the proposals would be utterly detrimental to their community. According to the petition of the residents in Carlton road, which is already used as a rat run for traffic, they are concerned that the situation will become far worse and will increase the danger, unsightliness, noise and pollution and will lower the property values of their homes. They are not confident that the proposed traffic calming measures would make any meaningful difference.

The residents of Windsor road N7 have presented a substantial petition. They say that the ELAS road proposals would be detrimental to their environment and community and would lead to the demolition of their homes. The residents of No. 39 Huddleston road, together with their friends and neighbours, are concerned about pollution of the environment, the destruction of the community and work places and shops. The clients, students and staff of Choice--the Islington branch of the Family Welfare Association--which is situated at No. 608 Holloway road, say that almost certainly that property would have to be demolished to make way for the road. The centre assists people with social security difficulties and poverty difficulties which, I am sorry to say, are rife in my borough. They are concerned that the road proposals would mean the destruction of Choice, which is a charity shop, a drop-in centre and provides counsel for various community projects. It is greatly used and is of invaluable help to many people who have problems, including loneliness, bereavement, chronic illness, handicap, discrimination, anxiety and depression. I have a petition for which the signatures were collected in front of my very eyes at a meeting of the Islington pensioners forum. It is signed by every person who attended the meeting. The petition says that the petitioners are concerned that the road construction would do nothing to remove local traffic jams and would make public transport worse. As pensioners, they rely entirely on public transport. They have lived in the borough for a long time. They are appalled to think that their borough would be divided by a concrete canyon.

The residents of Isledon road are concerned about the severance of the community. The residents of Calabria road are concerned about the destruction of their community and the neighbourhood as a result of the road proposals. A petition from the residents of Caledonian road says that the ELAS proposals would be detrimental to the environment by increasing noise, dirt and pollution. The petition of the residents in Holloway road and Hercules street says that the environment would be seriously affected and that homes and work places would be destroyed by increased traffic.

Another petition from the residents of Alexandra road says that the road building proposals would be detrimental


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to their environment and that in some cases residents would lose their homes. The residents of Axminster road in Upper Holloway say in their petition that the ELAS road proposal would be detrimental to their environment by increasing the level of noise and air pollution, that it would increase traffic accidents, that it would disrupt the local community, that houses and shops would have to be demolished and that access to the west side of Holloway road would be reduced. A substantial number of petitions have been presented this morning by both Members of Parliament with Islington constituencies. Our community and borough is deeply angry that the Secretary of State for Transport should have provided only eight weeks for consultation on the future of the homes of 2,000 people. We implore the House of Commons to intervene and to ensure that the road is not constructed and that instead resources are provided for public transport and for the protection and improvement of our environment.

I have pleasure in presenting 51 petitions, totalling well over 6, 000 signatures to the House. I hope that the Secretary of State--who, tragically, is not here--will read every petition and will reply to all the people who have put so much effort into petitioning the House.

To lie upon the Table.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sure that all hon. Members admire the way in which the hon. Members for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) and for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) have used, very properly, the rules of the House to present their petitions, taking some 20 minutes to do so. That is entirely in the traditions of the Labour party which, I remember, campaigned in the early 1970s on the basis "Stop this motorway madness around London". That is the immediate cause of London having such a rotten traffic system. I wonder whether there is any procedure whereby there could be an early debate on the matter that has been raised by the hon. Members.

Mr. Speaker : Not now. The hon. Members for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) and for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) were perfectly in order. The House will know that last Wednesday we passed a resolution to the effect that petitions on a private Members' Friday could run until 10 o'clock. They did not quite do that this morning.


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Orders of the Day

Rights of Way (Agricultural Land) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

9.59 am

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle) : I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

It is a great pleasure to be given the opportunity today to move the Second Reading of my Bill. When I heard that I had drawn number five in the ballot I got that sinking feeling that one gets at parliamentary selection conferences when one is asked what private Member's Bill one would introduce. I must admit that there was a gaping void in my mind.

In considering what Bill I should introduce, a number of factors occurred to me. First, it should not be a Government Bill. It is not that I have any objection to most Government Bills, but private Members' day is an opportunity for private Members' Bills. Secondly, it should be of some interest to my constituency, which is one of the most rural in the country, covering some 700 sq miles and more than 170 villages. Lastly, I was determined that, as the opportunity might not be repeated for many years, if at all, the Bill I introduced should be of interest to me personally. I have regretted many things in my life, but I have never regretted going for a walk, and if the Bill makes walking in the countryside easier it will have achieved something very important.

By way of a hobby I am an amateur landscape artist, so I shall give some idea of the structure of my speech and paint in the broad colours first. First, I shall try to outline the interest in walking in the countryside and the problems that have occurred ; then I shall deal with the legal and common law history of the footpath network ; then I shall examine the current legislation and its deficiencies ; and lastly I shall explain the Bill and attempt to convince the House that it would improve matters.

There is a long history of parliamentary debate on footpath matters. In 1880 James Bryce was elected to the House on a campaign based on the freedom to walk the Scottish hills. He introduced a number of private Member's Bills to bring that worthy aim to the attention of the House, and he made such a bore of himself that eventually they put him in the Cabinet to shut him up. I am not sure whether my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment is prepared to give me similar consideration. There were a number of such attempts until 1939 when Arthur Creech-Jones introduced a Bill that was so watered down in Committee that it was said to be a landlords' charter. My Bill is neither a landlords' charter nor a ramblers' charter. It is a compromise, but it is not a weak, milk and water compromise ; it is an important piece of legislation which will have a practical effect.

The basis of the problem that my Bill attempts to address is outlined in various surveys carried out by the Countryside Commission. They show that walking is probably the most important leisure activity. On a typical summer Sunday no fewer than 18 million people visit the countryside, and two thirds of them visit the wider countryside and, therefore, are in contact with the farming


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industry. Apparently, no fewer than 17.5 million people are regular walkers and riders, so the House should seek to foster and encourage those important leisure activities.

In 1988 the Countryside Commission produced a survey that was carried out by 1,000 volunteers. They discovered that on a typical two-mile walk along the 140,000 mile footpath network there was a two in three chance of meeting an obstacle.

Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton) : A bull.

Mr. Leigh : Not necessarily a bull, although I shall return to bulls later.

Impenetrable vegetation or hedges or fences across a footpath can be dealt with by existing legislation. The most important problem, which occurs repeatedly in the surveys, is the ploughing up and cropping of footpaths. One quarter of all footpaths and 13 per cent. of bridleways are affected, and of those, half are poor and one quarter are unusable. The ploughing up and cropping of footpaths is the single greatest disincentive to people using the countryside. The consistent comment of people who answered questions in the surveys was that they want to enjoy the countryside but cannot find the way in. The great majority--more than 80 per cent.--do not have the confidence to read maps and assert their rights when they meet a problem such as a ploughed field or a growing crop. As a result, people return to the few places that they know are safe to use, and those places become overused and eroded.

We are not talking about any great cost. I mentioned ploughing and cropping, but the Bill would not be allowed to introduce any increase in public spending. Even if we are talking of local authorities taking more action to deal with overgrown footpaths, way-making or building bridges, we are talking about 6p or 7p per walk, while every visit to a local swimming pool or leisure centre may involve a cost to local government of up to £1. If one sets the enormous popularity and importance of walking in the countryside against the relatively cheap cost to local authorities to enhance that enjoyment, it is clear that we are considering an important problem.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) : Does the hon. Gentleman realise that the footpath officers of county councils and highway authorities frequently have hundreds of miles of footpaths to inspect to check whether complaints of obstruction are justified so that they can initiate action? Unless councils have a few more staff, they will be unable to make more than a small impact on the problem. However, if they take on more staff, they will be accused of overspending and putting up the poll tax.

Mr. Leigh : The number of staff in the recreation department of the average shire county shows that the resources spent on footpaths are an infinitesimal proportion of what is spent by county councils on education, for example. I admit that I may be calling for a modest increase in public spending, but the amount is so small compared with total public spending, and the potential gain is so great, that it is worth addressing. I take the hon. Gentleman's point that local authorities need more resources.

I have outlined the popularity of walking in the countryside and some of the problems that people encounter on an average walk. I shall now explain the basis of the Bill. I said earlier that when I was considering


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introducing the Bill a number of factors came into my mind. One of the most important is that a private Member's Bill is a very delicate flower. I did not want to invite the attentions of the Friday Whip to crush my Bill under his heel by encouraging overlong speeches. Therefore, I felt that it was essential to introduce a private Bill that could obtain the support of the Government. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will give it that support.

A number of people have questioned whether I was wise to take on the problem of footpaths which has engendered so much passion in the countryside and on which the barricades seem to have been raised higher than on any other issue. It is said that the farming community is on one side and the ramblers are on the other, and never the twain shall meet.

Thanks to the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst)--I pay tribute to him and I hope that he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, later in the debate--and the rights of way review committee that he chaired, and thanks to the work of the representatives on that committee from the National Farmers Union, the Country Landowners Association and the ramblers, we have worked out a compromise which everyone is prepared to accept. I urge the House to accept the Bill as a compromise.

I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) is present. He is a well-known horseman and he may be concerned about the width of bridleways. I ride in the countryside and some of us might like bridleways to be wider, but I urge my hon. Friend and others who may represent the ramblers or the farmers to remember that the Bill is a carefully crafted compromise, and I shall explain later just how we managed to achieve it.

I want to address the fears of farmers, not least because I represent a farming constituency and farming is the most important industry not just in my area, Lincolnshire, but in the nation. Farmers are going through a very difficult time, buffeted by difficulties over the green pound and Government attempts to deal with agricultural surpluses. I do not want farmers to think that this is another anti-farmer measure. On the contrary, it has been carefully drawn up in consultation with the farming community to meet farmers' fears.

Circumstances in the countryside are changing. Many years ago, one could say that the countryside was almost part of the cities. The countryside was brought into even our great cities, such as Lincoln. With the industrial revolution and enclosures, there was a divide between country and city. The Countryside Commission surveys bear out the fact that an increasing proportion of people now live in the countryside--people who may live in villages but do not work on the land. The farming community must realise that this is an unstoppable process.

I hope that, in a modest way, the Bill will be the beginning of a process by which the farming community can be reconciled--if that is not too strong a word--with those who live in the country but do not work on the land. As surveys show, the advantages of living in the countryside are enormous. New patterns of employment in the countryside are emerging. More people are based in the home rather than in the office, with increasingly effective links by electronic communications, and others choose part-time work. High technology firms seek a pleasant,


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rural environment. I need not labour the point. More and more townspeople--if that is the right word--are living and working in the countryside.

We must try to improve attitudes. I was amused to hear of a case in Lincolnshire where the county council was asked to step in when ramblers protested about a sign on the edge of a field, which stated, "The next stile is 335 yd away. The bull can get there in 20 seconds. Can you?" The sign was eventually taken down.

Mr. David Nicholson : Was that a good thing?


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