This Week' s Conference.
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Many were the expressions of sympathy with Sir John Wolfe Barry, K.C.B., over the fact that the illness of a member of his family prevented his taking the chair at the adjourned Conference of road makers and road users on Monday morning. The opening proceedings were, in consequence, conducted under the chairmanship of the Hon. Arthur Stanley, M.P., who briefly referred to the difficulties that had been experienced at Olympia, on the t9th of April, when circumstances rendered it difficult, if not impossible, to conduct a sustained discussion. He also expressed his desire to make it clear that the Conference was not committed to State control or any other policy; it met for free and unfettered discussion.
It was moved by Mr. W. J. Taylor, seconded by Mr. H. T. Wakelam, and carried unanimously, that the Hon. Arthur Stanley, M.P., Colonel R. F. Crompton, CB., Mr. John A. Brodie, M.Inst.C.E., and Mr. H. F. Bull, president of the County Surveyors' Association, be elected vice-chairmen of the Conference.
The gathering of engineers and road users then settled to its programme of motions, of which no less than 29 were down on the agenda paper, under the chairmanship of Col. Crompton, and Mr. Rees Jeffreys soon disposed of the first of these, which was seconded by Colonel Crompton, and carried unanimously, as follows :— " That the road users represented at this Conference desire to place on record their appreciation of the labours of those road authorities and their officers who, under many difficulties, and with small encouragement from the State, have, during the past few years, greatly improved their roads to meet the demands of the increasing traffic." This record was suitably acknowledged by Mr. Wakelam, on behalf of the county and municipal surveyors present.
The next motion, which had been allotted to Mr. Robert Todd, introduced the spirit of controversy, and unnecessarily so, because its terms, as printed, were really non-contentious. Mr. Todd, for some unknown reason, raised the vexed question of State 'control, and this indiscretion opened the floodgates of discussion upon a point which, strictly speaking, was not embraced by the motion, with a resulting upheaval of the programme as prepared by the joint honorary secretaries. Mr. Todd's motion read :— "That, in the opinion of this Conference, in view of the great increase of through traffic, the State should contribute, on a larger and equitable basis, towards the cost of the construction, improvement, and maintenance of roads."
Mr. Wakelam, in seconding this motion, devoted nearly the whole of his remarks to a spirited opposition to State control, and, during the course of his speech, gave some interesting statistics in regard to the cost of main-road maintenance by county councils in England and Wales. He pointed out that, in the year I39o, only ,L't,o.55,000 was thus expended, but that the total had increased, by the year 1901, to £2,120,000. In proceeding to his later arguments, we were unable to follow to what cause Mr. Wakelam attributed this enormous increase, but we cannot refrain from pointing out that motor traffic, during the years 1890-1901, can have been a very small contributory one. He gave, too, the figures as far as 1905, for which year the total was 4-2,478,000. Our chief interest in these figures is that the increase between 1901 and 19°5, which amounts to an
average of only some £12 per mile per annum, is much less than is generally thought to be the case.
Although several speakers expressed the belief that they were out of order in discussing the question of State control under the motion, they were allowed to do so by the Chairman, and Mr. Rees Jeffreys pleaded justification by reason of the inclusion of the words "equitable basis." Amongst the most interesting arguments that were advanced in support of additional State aid, we may cite the fact that, whereas the State bore half the cost of main-road maintenance at the time of the formation of the county councils, the ratio is now less than one-fourth, notwithstanding the enormous increase in the ratio of through traffic to purely local traffic, a point which was raised by Mr. Dryland. Mr. Hawkins pointed out that in his case, the county of Berkshire, 23 traction engines were registered in the year 1900, and only 26 in the year 1906; on the other hand, he pointed out that, against 237 daily licenses for the year 1900, a total of 757 daily licenses had been issued for the year 1906. This proved the extraordinary increase in the through traffic, and it meant that they had all these traction engines going through the county, along some 37 miles of the Bath road, for 2s. 6d. a day each, an amount which did not cover the cost of the damage done in the first mile. The resolution, as printed above, was carried unanimously, as were the following three resolutions, the first and third on the motion of Mr. Rees Jeffreys, and the second on the motion of Mr. Shrapnell Smith :—
"That this Conference welcomes the changes propixed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in Local Taxation Accounts, as paving the way for an arrangement by which the State shall contribute more liberally and equitably towards the cost of the construction, improvement, and maintenance of roads."
" That, in the opinion of this Conference, the taxes on all classes of road vehicles should be reconsidered and revised, and paid into the Imperial Exchequer, for the purpose of grants towards the cost of the construction, improvement, and maintenance of roads."
"That, in the opinion of this Conference, further Parliamentary powers should he given to the local and road authorities to fix the minimum width of trunk road, and to prescribe frontage lines, and that the attention of local and road authorities be directed to the desirability of widening main roads passing through suburban and rural districts before building operations commence."
The Chairman, at this point, in accordance with the evident desire of the meeting, agreed to take resolution number 21 on the paper, as it was felt that, the question of State control having been raised out of its intended sequence, a number of the speeches might have to be repeated on the second day of the Conference if any other course were adopted. Mr. Lovegrove then moved a long resolution in favour of the formation of a State Highway Commission, or Department, and embodying seven sub-divisions, which were drawn with the intention of defining the duties of such a body : two of these sub-divisions we reproduce, as it was upon them that the largest proportion of the discussion turned. They read :— " To formulate a scheme of annual grants by Parliament for the maintenance and improvement of existing, and the construction, maintenance and improvement of new, national roads." " To control. and administer the allocation of such annual grants."
Without following the intricacies and details of a discussion which lasted for several hours, we may say that the meeting, after indirectly negativing Mr. Lovegrove's proposals by the acceptance of the first of the following amendments, was unable to make any choice between that amendment, when put as a substantive resolution, and an amendment to the amendment, which consisted of a proposal for the omission of the portion which we print in italics.
" That should the Imperial Government see its way to grant subsidies to road authorities towards the cost of improving, widening and maintaining reads, this Conference is of opinion that all grants allocated should be earmarked for the purpose, and that the State should take steps to satisfy itself that the grants are being properly expended."
Many of the county surveyors present appeared to think that there was a likelihood of their obtainingState aid without any measure of State control, which we can only regard as an impossibility, and there certainly was not a little confusion as to the meaning of the word control in this connection. Whereas the road engineers feared that it involved a constructional and advisory control from some governing official, the road users, in order that there should be no continuance of a grant in aid where efficiency was not demonstrated, asked for nothing more than financial control. All speakers were agreed that the existing 1,117 authorities which haVe charge of the roads in England and Wales should be reduced by the acceptance of the county councils as the recognised governing units.
The discussion on this question of State control, which extended both sides of the luncheon interval, caused the Chairman to point out that the acceptance or rejection of State control did not rest with the Conference, but that it would depend on the Government or the Treasury hereafter. His appeal for a curtailment of the discussion did not, however, meet with a satisfactory response, yet the Conference. managed to find time, none the less, before completing its Monday's labours, to adopt, the first unanimously and the second with some dissension, the following resolutions of interest to commercial Motor manufacturers and users :— " That the attention of motorcar manufacturers and tire manufacturers should be directed to the desirability of constructing cars and tires which shall, as far as prac ticable, provide against the raising of dust." That a further tax beyond that at present imposed should be levied on self-propelled vehicles as a means of providing revenue for road-maintenance purposes."
Tuesday's proceedings saw Sir John Wolfe Barry in the chair, but his trouble of the previous day had become a family bereavement, so that, leaving half an hour after the opening of the meeting, he gave place to Col. Crompton, but not before he had made some valuable suggestions with regard to certain of the motions that were down for consideration, and had expressed his practical sympathy with the objects of the conference.
The business opened with Mr. W. J. Dibdin's resolution in favour of an investigation into the possible pollution of watercourses in connection with the use on highways of tar or other dust palliatives, and this, although the meeting regarded the risk as a small one, was adopted.
Much interest centred around two resolutions in the name of Mr. Howard Humphreys, on the subject of bridges, and the following two resolutions were ultimately adopted, after several small changes from the original wording, so as to read in accordance with the terms which appear below :— " That, in the opinion of this Conference, additional powers should be given to County Councils to enable them to call upon the owners of all bridges carrying public roads, her than county, hundred, or.district bridges, to maintain the bridges and the approaches thereto, in a proper condition, or in default to do the work themselves, recovering the cost thereof in a summary manner."
" That, in the opinion of this Conference, standards of loading, strength, and width should be prescribed by the Board of Trade for all new railway and canal overbridges." More Powers Asked.
Mr. H. T. Wakelam, county surveyor of Middlesex, had given notice of five resolutions, but the essential parts of two of these had been adopted at Monday's conference, in the resolutions bearing upon State aid. The two following resolutions, in Mr. Wakelam's name, were unanimously adopted in 'addition, but a third one, on the subject of procedure in connection with road widening, after a prolonged discussion, was divided into two parts and carried materially in accordance with his notice of motion.
" That further Parliamentary powers should he given to local and road authorities to enable them to fix the widths of all roads and to lay down both frontage and building lines on all roads."
" That the Roads Improvement Association be thanked for their enterprise in carrying out the tar trials in Middlesex and Berkshire, and. that the said association be asked to circulate the results of the trials throughout the kingdom."
The Hon. C. S. Rolls was down to move a resolution drawing attention to the advantage of making junctions between various repaired sections of roads at oblique instead of at right angles, and this, in his absence, was moved by Mr. Rees Jeffreys. Several of the county surveyors present expressed surprise that any county should continue to make such sections at right angles to the line of the road, and the motion was then unanimously adopted.
It was moved from the chair :— " That, subject to their willingness to serve, the following be appointed a Committee to wait upon the Government and by other means to give effect to the resolutions passed by this Conference :—Sir John Wolfe Barry, K.C.B., LL.D., F.R.S., M.Inst.C.E.; Lord Montagu of Beaulieu; Lard Lovat, Chairman Inverness-shire County Council; Sir John Thornycroft, F.R.S.; the Hon. Arthur Stanley, M.P.; Major E. F. Coates, M.P. ; Sir W. J. Bull, M.P.; Mr. C. D. Rose, M.P., Chairman R.A.C. and Motor Union; Mr. Robert Todd, Chairman R.I.A. ; Mr, Howard Humphreys, Assoc.M.Inst.C.E., M.I.Mech.E.; Col. Crompton, CD., R.E., M.Inst.C.E.; Mr. E. J. Lovegrove, M.Inst.C.E.; Mr. J. Allen Howe; Mr. W. J. Taylor, M.Inst.C.E. ; Dr, H. S. Hele-Shaw, FRS.; Mr. John A. Brodie, M.Inst.C.E.; Mr, A. A. Campbell-Swinton, M.Inst.C.E.; Major C. G. Matson; Mr. Douglas Mackenzie, A.M.I.Mech.E. ; Mr. H. T. Wakelam, M.Inst.C.E. ; Mr. J. F. Hawkins; Mr. H. F. Bull, Assoc.M.Inst.C.E.; Mr. Montagu Harris, Secretary County Councils Association; Mr. A. Dryland, Assoc.M. Inst.C.E.; Mr. E. G. Mawbey, M.Inst.C.E'..; Mr. H. P. IVIaybury ; Mr. E. Shrapnel' Smith; the Secretaries of the County Surveyors' Society and of the Incorporated Association of Municipal and County Engineers; Mr. A. T. Davis; Mr. C. F. Wyke; W. J. Fletcher ; Mr. A. Moresby White; Mr. A. Gladwell ; Mr. a W. Manning ; Mr. IIarris (Tonbridge); and Mr. Webb (Hendon).
" Also, representatives of the following bodies :—Surveyors' Institution ; Royal Horticultural Society ; Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders; Urban District Councils Association; Rural District Councils Association; Municipal Corporations Association; Royal Institute of Public Health; Association of Medical Officers; Associated Chambers of Commerce; London Chamber of Commerce; Society of Arts; Royal Sanitary Institute; County Surveyors' Society ; Incorporated Association of Municipal and County Engineers; the Institute of British Architects ; and the County Councils Association."
On the motion of the Chairman, a report of the National Dustless Roads Committee was received, and resolutions were unanimously adopted authorising the circulation of that report, and instructing the members of the Committee whose names are given above to take the necessary steps to. apply for a Government grant towards the costs of the intended national experiments.
The proceedings concluded with votes of thanks to theChairman and to the •Council of the Institute of Civil Engineers shortly after one o'clock.