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Mr. Steen: Before I mull over the points that the hon. Gentleman is about to make, I have some questions on environmental impact assessments. Are they not a bit of a red herring? I am familiar with them because a road at Slapton in my constituency was destroyed by the sea and, as it is a site of special scientific interest, an environmental impact assessment has to be carried out before a new road can be built. The assessment is a delaying tactic, is it not? It does not prevent anything from happening. The environmental impact statement is costly; it merely tells the Government, "You can go ahead, or you cannot go ahead". I may be wrong--I am not familiar with what such statements actually do. Can the Minister help me on that point?
Mr. Hill: In the House, the hon. Gentleman is famous as the hammer of bureaucracy and red tape--not least, of course, that which emanates from the European Union. However, I do not believe that he is right to describe environmental impact assessments as delaying tactics; sometimes, they are designed to meet precisely the type of problems that he outlines in the case of the unfortunate Mr. Wood--the question as to whether a proposed development will have an undesirable impact on the environment, not merely on flora and fauna, but on human beings as well.
I shall say a few words about noise policy. Noise is one of the environmental issues to which we have given a great deal of thought. We recognised the benefit offered by quieter road surfaces--the hon. Gentleman spoke about those--and have promised that lower-noise surfacing will be used as a matter of course in all new infrastructure provision and maintenance work on the trunk road network. That means that lower-noise surfacing will be achieved without undue cost or disruption. In addition, we have undertaken to resurface all concrete roads within the next 10 years, including those that would not otherwise be due for resurfacing, because it is now recognised that such roads give rise to much greater concern about noise.
In total, we anticipate that more than 60 per cent. of the trunk road network will have been resurfaced by April 2011. [Interruption.] Again, I am glad that, from a sedentary position, the hon. Gentleman expresses his pleasure at that commitment, which is of significance to the A30, in an area not remote from his constituency. We have ensured that the Highways Agency will deal with particularly severe cases of noise arising from existing roads, where the road surface does not need early replacement, including the provision of noise barriers.
I turn now to compensation for noise. The adverse indirect effects of road construction, especially those built to motorway standards, on adjacent interests in land have been recognised for many years in this country. Before the 1970s, compensation was paid only in cases where land was compulsorily acquired for the construction. In the Land Compensation Act 1973, it was recognised that the noise, fumes and some other effects arising from traffic on a new road could have a significant effect on the value of properties some distance away.
There are inevitably some restrictions on the grounds for compensation. The adverse effects considered are noise, vibration, smell, fumes, smoke, artificial lighting and the discharge of any solid or liquid substance. The effects must be attributable to a newly constructed road, not to the increased use of an existing road. The claim is judged on the situation obtaining one year after the road has been open, assuming that all intended mitigation measures have been provided.
Claims can be lodged by owners, occupiers or long-term tenants only between one and seven years after the road has opened. The compensation may be reduced where some benefit is derived from the new development. Claims are normally settled by negotiation, but cases in which agreement cannot be reached may be referred to the independent Lands Tribunal.
I should add that the Land Compensation Act 1973 also requires highway authorities to take action to reduce the effect of excessive traffic noise on people's homes. It provided the Secretary of State with powers to prescribe, in the Noise Insulation Regulations 1975, the circumstances in which it is considered appropriate for residential properties to be insulated against traffic noise.
Highway authorities were given further powers under the Highways Act 1980 to provide measures in road construction schemes to mitigate their adverse effects on the surrounding countryside. That included the power to acquire extra land to create features screening properties from the sight and other effects of new roads.
Techniques for assessing the environmental impact of major road schemes developed in the 1970s and 1980s were published in the 1983 manual of environmental appraisal. That included an assessment of traffic noise, based on the methods used to determine whether properties were likely to need insulation. The assessment also allowed for the consideration of the adverse effects at greater distances, based on the significance of changes in the noise climate.
Those are the sorts of recourse available to property owners, such as Mr. Wood, if such a fate were to threaten them or, indeed, befall them in the United Kingdom. Again, there may be lessons from the British experience
Mr. Steen: As the Minister may know, I have corresponded with Commissioner Kinnock, and he was extremely receptive and very anxious to find a way to deal with such matters, but unfortunately the officials got the better of him. Despite clear indications that he would like to find a solution, Commissioner Kinnock has failed. He does not like to fail, but he has, and I wonder whether the Minister thinks that there is another route that I can take--because my track record is not to fail for my constituents.
Mr. Hill: I am certainly aware of the hon. Gentleman's excellent track record on behalf of his constituents. I dare say that explains his extremely long tenure in the House. If I may say it in a totally non-partisan spirit, we all rejoice in that.
I take the hon. Gentleman's point about his correspondence with Commissioner Kinnock. However, representations in the Chamber are of incomparably greater significance than written exchanges, and the fact that the hon. Gentleman has raised this important matter in the Chamber will add to the force of his case. I have also undertaken to consider his proposals carefully, and I shall pursue them if I think that there is any mileage in them. I shall inform him of any appropriate actions that I might take.
I hope that I have assured the hon. Gentleman that the unfortunate problems faced by his constituent, Mr. Wood, in Portugal would be unlikely to have arisen in this country. We recognise that the infrastructure needed by a modern and efficient country may have some adverse effects on the people who live near it, but we believe that those people who suffer from the use of the infrastructure should be properly compensated.