Toby Jessel – 1978 Speech on the M25 Motorway

Below is the text of the speech made by Toby Jessel, the then Conservative MP for Twickenham, in the House of Commons on 2 November 1978.

I am grateful for the selection of my subject—the urgent need to complete the M25 London circular motorway, which is of great concern to many of the 12 million people in South-East England who comprise a quarter of the population of our country.

In 1934, Mr. Hore-Belisha, the Transport Minister who invented Belisha beacons, set up a committee which recommended strongly the building of an outer orbital road round London. Forty-four years have gone by, and now only 20 of the 116 miles of the M25 circular motorway are open.

I hope that the Minister will be able not only to reassure us that the Secretary of State for Transport meant what he said in his roads White Paper this April that currently the M25 had top priority—but also that the M25 will at the current rate be completed in time for the golden jubilee of Hore-Belisha’s committee. We expect the Government to get on with it and to get on with it fast.

The objectors to motorways get so much coverage from the media, both broadcasting and the press, that the case for motorways often seems to go by default.

The first advantage of motorways is safety. On average, a motorway is three times safer to drive along than an ordinary main road.

The second advantage is the ease of movement. We all know how exhausting and exasperating it is to try to get from one side of London to the other or to cross London at an oblique angle. If one tries to go from Twickenham to Essex, it is a slow, exhausting journey. The same is true if one drives from South London, for example, from Reigate, across to Enfield or from Sevenoaks to Watford. The journey is all but impossible. Anyone going to another part of the country and trying to do a similar 20 or 30-mile journey between two towns—Manchester to Liverpool, Derby to Nottingham, or Glasgow to Edinburgh—expects to find a fast road between them. There is no reason why the inhabitants of South-East England should be deprived of a fast road for a journey of similar length if they wish to make it.

Thirdly, there is the benefit to towns and villages now enduring heavy through traffic which will be relieved by the motorway bypassing them.

Fourthly, there is the economic benefit. Motorways cut costs in the distribution of goods, help to hold down the cost of living and inflation and improve our export prospects. This is especially true of the M25 which will link with the Channel ports.

However, the construction of the M25 is being delayed, not only by the slipping of the Government programme but by the organised obstruction of local public inquiries relating to different stretches of it. Of course, routes have to be scrutinised closely and Parliament has insisted ​ that under the law people who might be affected have the right to have their say. That is as it should be in a free country. But some people are now abusing that right. They are deliberately obstructing public inquiries from getting on with their work. That is not only turning democracy on its head; it is also utterly selfish, and it is acting with total disregard for the safety and well being of other people.

I said that on average motorways were safer than other roads. If a motorway is stopped, the effect is to kill and injure people. Let us take as an example the 12-mile section of the M25 from Reigate via Leatherhead to Wisley and the A3. The opening of that part is being held back by protestors against the Leather-head interchange. A delay of one year is likely to cost 600 personal injuries and three deaths among people who would otherwise have used that motorway.

There are also the people who have to endure the exhausting nuisance of heavy traffic thundering past their houses which would be bypassed by the M25. Their needs are being wholly ignored by the motorway protesters. For example, a massive quantity of traffic is pouring through Uxbridge Road, Hampton Hill and the village of Hampton in my constituency. Part of this traffic would be taken away by the M25, although the amount is uncertain. On 4th February 1977 the Under-Secretary told me that the M25 would cut traffic over Hampton Court bridge by a quarter. Last month the Greater London Council estimated that the reduction of traffic in Hampton would be only 10 per cent. to 15 per cent. That is a lesser amount but it would be a significant cut. I would like to know the right figure and what the percentage would be for the cut in the proportion of heavy lorries, which are particularly annoying.

I would also like to ask why my constituents who will benefit from the construction of the M25 were not notified by the Department of Transport of the public inquiry into the section which would benefit them. I would like to ask whether the Hampton Residents’ Association and the Hampton Hill Association can be invited to give evidence to the public inquiry.

It is essential to speed up the completion of the M25. I hope to hear that ​ the Government intend to redouble their efforts to bring that about.