Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 540 - 559)

WEDNESDAY 24 JANUARY 2001

MR T MATTHEWS AND MR R THORNDIKE

Mr Bennett

  540. Are you making much progress in using waste tyres and glass for road surfacing materials?
  (Mr Thorndike) We do have a research programme which is looking into those areas of recycling, but actually very little recycling is done on the surfacing of the trunk roads. What does happen is that the top surfaces are very often taken off, recycled and used in the lower layers where you can use different materials. Yes, there is research.

  541. People are telling us that a big way of getting rid of waste tyres and of waste glass onto your roads is really not realistic. Is that right?
  (Mr Thorndike) At the moment we cannot make the materials durable enough to stand up to the trunk road traffic.

Chairman

  542. Can we deal with this business of road noise? I want to ask you about the A30 near Marsh Green in Exeter. You will be aware that the local residents are very upset about the rolled concrete surface. You will also, I am sure, accept that at the inquiry the inspector gave various undertakings which did not appear to be followed when the road was actually built. Is it true that that is the case? What actually happened there? How is it that concrete surface on this road which has recently been built is in a state which is producing considerable oscillation, considerable difficulties for the people near it? Did the Highways Agency specify the conditions? At the public inquiry, did the inspector make it clear he expected certain conditions to be applied to that road?
  (Mr Thorndike) No.

  543. Did the Highways Agency specify in the contract the sort of surface?
  (Mr Thorndike) No, the contractor had a choice of surfacing materials.

  544. You did not ask him specifically to deal with the question of noise.
  (Mr Thorndike) No, he had a choice of surfacing materials.

Mr Donohoe

  545. Other contractors put in a bid and were specific, were they not?
  (Mr Thorndike) I do not know.

Chairman

  546. Why did you not ask about noise? Why did you not think it was important?
  (Mr Thorndike) At that time, we have to go back four years to when the contract was let, the new quieter surfaces were really only just coming into service. They were moving from an experimental stage to becoming normal.

  547. But you did not specify, you did not think noise was important and you did not buy the houses which were close to the motorway.
  (Mr Thorndike) We did not specify.

  548. You did not think that was important enough. Are you therefore going to resurface this road?
  (Mr Thorndike) Government have said that we will resurface all concrete roads within the ten-year period and we are currently consulting the local authorities who have noise responsibilities on the criteria we should use for prioritising.

  549. So although this is actually something the Highways Agency is almost directly responsible for, the people in the area may have to wait some considerable time.
  (Mr Thorndike) Yes. We are consulting on the criteria which have to be used and we have proposed the criteria should follow the principle of the roads which affect the most people being done first.

  550. Yet this is a recent road and it is a direct responsibility of the Highways Agency not specifying the type of surface.
  (Mr Thorndike) Yes.

  Chairman: I do not think that is one of your greatest hours.

Mr Bennett

  551. How many Exeter households got noise insulation as a result of the higher levels of noise from this surface?
  (Mr Thorndike) I do not know. I should have to write to you about that.

  Chairman: We shall accept a note from you.

Mr Bennett

  552. The question of hard shoulders. You have got rid of at least two miles in the centre of Stockport in order to put in the extra lane. Do you think that is really safe?
  (Mr Matthews) We will only develop use of hard shoulders where it is safe. It is not a policy of the Agency to make extensive use of hard shoulder, indeed we have no power to do so without agreement with the police.

  553. Some of the hard shoulder which is left is so narrow that if you park on it you cannot actually change your offside wheel in any safety. Does that not present problems?
  (Mr Matthews) I confess I am not aware of the detail of the particular stretch you are referring to. I can write to you separately with some assurance on that if you want.

  554. What is going to happen about having some recovery system for vehicles which break down in sections where there is no hard shoulder?
  (Mr Matthews) At the moment we have one or two ideas that we are beginning to develop which cover a range of what we call active traffic management, which may include use of hard shoulder. As part of that thinking we have been developing the notion of what is called a safe haven, so that on any stretch of road there will always be with appropriate frequency somewhere where somebody who has broken down or needs to be towed off the main carriageway can go. I emphasise these are very much outline ideas at this stage in terms of how we might make better use of the network and we might clear the network more clearly and effectively. We will be consulting the police in particular, because they have particular responsibility in this area, and also the motoring organisations, when we have some firmer ideas. We certainly have no plans for extensive use of the hard shoulder.

  555. Would it not have been a good idea to talk to the motoring organisations a bit earlier because some of them think you fancy yourself as the AA or the RAC or the Green Flag?
  (Mr Matthews) We have talked to the motoring organisations. These ideas were presented in the autumn—and I emphasise these are outline ideas not firm plans—at a major conference we had for all of our stakeholders as a followup to the Ten-Year Plan. The RAC, AA and other organisations were involved in that. They are involved in regular meetings with us through the Road Users' Forum and bilateral meetings and we are committed to developing these ideas in discussion and consultation with them.

  556. If you get rid of the hard shoulder, there are quite a lot of breakdowns which could be described as catastrophic in that the vehicle cannot go very much further. Is that not going to present considerable problems?
  (Mr Matthews) We do not have plans for extensive running use of the hard shoulder in those areas. Where we might wish to, those are precisely the sort of factors which we shall need to take account of, as well as all the other technology, whether CCTV or linkups between us and the motoring organisations, which can help that. Our objective is to keep the road running as effectively and quickly as possible to clear incidents as quickly as possible, but above all to do that in a safe manner.

  557. In what sort of time would you expect to be able to clear incidents where people break down in areas where there is no hard shoulder?
  (Mr Matthews) Once we have clearance from the police, and we can only clear once the police have cleared us to do that, we would aim to do that within quarter to half an hour.

  558. But it is often very difficult for any breakdown vehicle or the police to get through the queuing traffic to the scene of the incident, is it not?
  (Mr Matthews) Yes, that is right.

  559. Do you still think you can do it in quarter of an hour?
  (Mr Matthews) Yes.


 
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