John Horam – 1978 Speech on the M25 Motorway

Below is the text of the speech made by John Horam, the then Labour Under Secretary of State for Transport, in the House of Commons on 2 November 1978.

I must confess that junior Ministers do not always welcome Adjournment debates, particularly junior Ministers at the Department of Transport. We have had only two days of this Session so far but this is already my second Adjournment debate. But I am grateful to the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) for raising this issue tonight, and I think that we all agree that he has done the House a service in doing so. Perhaps that explains the unusually high attendance for an Adjournment debate.

The Government have said continuously that we welcome more parliamentary discussion of the national road programme. This is clearly not a matter suitable for debate at local inquiries. I am therefore glad that the hon. Gentleman has provided an opportunity for the House to discuss the M25 in particular, and I welcome the chance to make the Government position clear.

The question of priority has been to the forefront of the minds of those hon. ​ Members who have spoken. We said in our White Paper on roads, published in April, that we attach the highest priority to the completion of the M25. We mean what we say. We intend to give the work on the M25 all the available resources in terms of manpower and attention that it requires. Whenever the question of the M25 comes up, it gets first priority for available manpower and resources. That must be plain to all hon. Members, and it is the position that I want to establish.

In reply to the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend), let me say that there has been no avoidable delay at all in sections of the M25. Of course, public inquiries take time. All the statutory procedures must be gone through, quite rightly, but there has been no delay due to any failure on the part of the Department to give this the highest priority. I assure the hon. Member of that.

I hope, therefore, that I have established beyond doubt this evening, once again, the Government’s complete commitment to building the M25 as fast as we possibly can.

Mr. Townsend

Is it not possible, though, to bring forward the completion date?

Mr. Horam

The answer is “No”. Of course, we shall bring the completion date forward if it is possible to do so. But the major factor in determining completion dates is the progress of the statutory procedures and public inquiries. Everything else is done as quickly as possible, because it is given top priority, frankly, in the office and so forth. Therefore, I think that it is simply not physically possible to bring it forward. If there is any way in which we can save time, of course, we shall.

But in the nature of things, there is a great deal of public interest in this matter, and there are bound to be long public inquiries. They cannot be avoided, and rightly so. Therefore, I think that we are probably stuck with the sort of timetable that we have now, which is probably fairly realistic in the circumstances. I think that we must avoid delay on that, but obviously I cannot promise that we shall bring anything further forward than we have already said.

Let us look at the advantages of the M25. The Greater London area, 35 ​ miles across, is a great obstacle to through traffic, including traffic to and from the east coast and Channel ports and Tilbury docks, and the first advantage of the M25 will be to provide a way round this huge area. It will also provide a convenient link between Heathrow and Gatwick and from these airports to the M4 and the M1. This traffic has no business in London and there is a clear need to provide a bypass for it.

In addition to that, the road will also act as a general distributor. It will link the radial routes which carry traffic in and out of London. Drivers will be able to reach places in London or find the most convenient exit road without crossing the centre or using existing inadequate orbital routes. This function has become more important since it was decided not to go ahead with Ringway 3.

Thirdly, the M25 will provide some local relief for congested roads on the outskirts of London. This was of particular relevance to the hon. Member for Twickenham and to the other hon. Members who have spoken in the debate.

Obviously, a road designed to serve an orbital function cannot produce relief for all local roads along all its route. We do not claim that the M25 will produce a marked reduction of traffic in central London. But many suburban areas will see a marked improvement to their environment when the road is finished. It will divert heavy through traffic from some roads in inner London. In some places the provision of an alternative route for through traffic will make it easier to introduce desirable traffic management schemes and to prevent rat-running through residential areas. As the hon. Member for Twickenham pointed out with great conviction and strength, it will be much safer than existing roads.

I now turn to questions of present progress on particular parts of the road, with which the hon. Member and his colleagues are concerned. On the overall picture, the motorway is approximately 120 miles in length. Of that, 23 miles—not 20, as I think the hon. Member said—are now open. Fourteen miles are under construction, and for a further 50 miles the line has been fixed. As has been said many times, we hope for the completion of the entire thing by the middle 1980s. I do not quite know how that ties in with the ​ Golden Jubilee to which the hon. Member refers, but the mid-1980s is the target.

Mr. Jessel

It depends on what the hon. Gentleman means by ” he mid-1980s”.

Mr. Horam

“The mid-1980s” is a fairly flexible phrase, but, none the less, it cannot be stretched too far.

On the details within the area, which will concern the hon. Member, which I define roughly as the area between the M4 and Reigate and Surrey—that broad south-west part of the M25—the short section between Egham and Thorpe, as the hon. Member knows, was opened to traffic in December 1976. Work is under way on the section between Thorpe and Chertsey—and we hope that that road will be opened to traffic in 1980—and on the bridge over the Thames at Runnymede. We hope that the bridge over the Thames will be completed next year. The section north of the bridge to Yeoveney will begin soon. The remaining sections still have formal procedures to complete, but I hope that the link between Chertsey and Reigate will be completed in 1983, and to the M4 and to the north by 1984.

The hon. Member for Twickenham asked me for details of the consequential effect of the M25, when completed, on his constituency and the area generally around Twickenham, Hampton and Kingston. He quoted the figure of 25 per cent. for relief of traffic crossing over Hampton Court bridge, and wanted me to explain the difference between that figure and the GLC figures for relief, for example, on the A312. It was given, quite rightly, as 10 per cent. to 15 per cent. The difference is that Hampton Court bridge is more part of an orbital route, whereas the A312 is more a radial route.

Mr. Jessel

That is not correct. The A312 runs from north-west to south-east and at right angles to any radial route into London. It is a purely orbital route. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has been misinformed by his advisers on this.

Mr. Horam

I always regret being misinformed by my advisers, and obviously the hon. Gentleman’s knowledge of the local geography is infinitely superior to mine. But the basic point, however we define orbital and radial roads, is that radials will clearly benefit less than orbitals from the building of another orbital ​ route. We believe that, basically, relief on radial routes will be about 10 per cent., whereas that on orbital routes will be rather higher. That is the destinction, and it explains the difference between the two sets of figures.

Concerning heavy goods traffic, the hon. Gentleman asked what would be the relief there. If we are talking about Hampton Court bridge, where we estimate that the traffic will be a quarter less as a result of building the M25, the figure for the reduction of heavy lorries will be roughly 8 per cent. That is the only figure I can make available at the moment. If I have further information on that point I shall make it available to the hon. Gentleman.

The hon. Gentleman asked me a detailed point about the Hampton Residents’ Association. Obviously a residents’ association of that kind, with the interests it must have, must be given every facility to make its views known at any public inquiry. I do not know the exact circumstances of the particular case, but I shall have them looked into with that general objective in mind. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman after I have conducted my investigations. If he will bear with me on that, I shall certainly try to try to seek to facilitate the residents’ opportunity to present their views.

The hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Dodsworth) and I have talked on many occasions about this road. Indeed, he has brought deputations to see me about the M40 to Maple Cross section in particular. We talked about this last July when he came with some of his constituents and other people interested in this part of the M25. I know of his desire that there should be no avoidable delay in that section. That is a matter which is fairly early in the pipeline. We do not expect it to be completed until the early 1980s, probably by about 1984. I know that he is anxious that the various sections should be completed more or less simultaneously. We shall do our best to meet that, although there are problems in completing a massive project of this kind and getting the timing exactly right in all the sections. We have the problems very much in mind.

The hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle) reminded me of his concern, which he has pursued assiduously in the House, and with me personally, for the A128 and the conditions on that. I fully recognise that this is unsuitable for the traffic that it is having to bear at the moment. It will be a major beneficiary from the building of the M25. Things have not gone entirely smoothly in that eastward section of the M25. We have had some problems over court orders and one mistake that we ourselves made set back the progress by some months. As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, there is now a public inquiry going on at this moment in Hornchurch. Perhaps by now it has been completed. Again this is something on which progress is being made. All things being said, there has been reasonably satisfactory progress.

Mr. McCrindle

Since the hon. Gentleman has confessed that an error at his Department, which I do not hold against him, did indeed hold up progress on the section of the M25 from the A13 to the A12, and remembering that there was to be a gap in time between that section being completed and the section between the A12 and M11, is it a practicable proposition now to try to bring the commencement of each of those sections sufficiently close so that effectively they are developed simultaneously?

Mr. Horam

That is a very interesting point and I shall have it looked into. The hon. Member for Bexleyheath was very much in favour of continued progress on this road and made a number of valuable points about the progress of public inquiries. I shall study carefully what he said.

I come back to the more general point about which the hon. Gentleman was taiking in his contribution. Obviously, hon. Members wish that there was even faster progress than we are able to talk about tonight. I certainly wish that were so. But it would be wrong to underestimate the formidable amount of work in designing a motorway 120 miles long round the fringe of a built-up area such as London. Much of its passes through the Metropolitan green belt, including areas of outstanding landscape value such as Epping Forest and the Kent Downs. From the beginning we have tried to design the road so that it would do the minimum damage to the environment. The greatest care is also needed to avoid unnecessary disruption to homes and communities ​ strung along the route. The new road will affect traffic movements on all the existing roads which lie near its route. All these effects have to be assessed, and the junctions designed so that it brings the maximum relief to existing roads and yet does not create too many new traffic problems on roads which act as feeders.

We have to consult the public living in the areas through which the road passes to get their views on the preferred route. Then we have to go through the formal procedures laid down in the Highways Acts. In the White Paper on the review of inquiry procedures we described the changes we have made in order to meet the concern expressed by the public about the existing system. I hope that the changes will help the objectors in presenting their case as well as preventing the difficulties which have been experienced at some inquiries and which have made it difficult to hold a fair and reasoned examination of the road proposals. The inquiries which have started this autumn are under the new rules, and I believe this has made things easier for all the parties concerned. In answer to the hon. Member for Bexleyheath, I do regret that some people have still sought to make their protests by noisy, undemocratic means. I am grateful that the inspectors have been able to ensure that this small minority have not been able to stop proceedings, and that examination of the proposals is going ahead.

We recognise that in the past the scope of inquiries has not been wide enough to examine the justification for a road as well as its alignment and other more detailed effects. We accept that the case for each section of M25 should be examined at the line inquiry in the same way as any other road. But I must make it clear that it is the Government’s policy to build an orbital route round London and the individual sections must be considered against that background.

The hon. Member has referred to the advantages which the road will bring. I think his views are shared by the over-whelming majority of other hon. Members. But there are some organisations which question that. They fear that when the M25 is completed it will act as a magnet for commerce and industry, drawing firms out of inner London and creating pressures for undesirable development in the green belt.

Our view of the importance of the M25 is of course fully shared by all the local planning authorities concerned. The South Eastern Economic Planning Council has said that it will have a significant beneficial effect on the economy of the region. Once the M25 is built, journeys will become possible which would not be undertaken at present and new patterns of industrial, commercial and social activity may be formed. These cannot now be forecast except in the most general terms. But there is no reason why these new patterns of movement should create irresistible pressure for growth to the detriment of the green belt or of inner London. The planning authorities have a full range of powers to resist or contain pressures for undesirable development in green belt areas, amply backed by the reserve planning powers of my right lion. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

At this stage it would be both impracticable and not in the public interest to hold a public inquiry into the entire remaining length of the M25. Decisions have already been taken on the assumption that it will be completed. For example, the recommendations of the Layfield panel on the Greater London development plan and the Government’s subsequent decisions on them might well have been different if there had been no plans—

[debate adjourned]