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Agreement was reached in principle on the need to accommodate traffic resulting from the Local Plan...The Highways Agency will review the situation when the Local Plan...becomes clearer.[ Official Report, 11 November 2005; Vol. 439, c. 782W.]
Mrs. Miller: The answer is simple. We need a more co-ordinated approach to dealing with increased traffic volume. At present, there are ad hoc measures in my constituency to try to shield the various communities that abut the motorway. Some of them are evenbeing given planning consent to build alongside the motorway, but there is no plan for a co-ordinated approach to noise abatement. Such plans need to be developed and I have already raised the issue with the Highways Agency.
A final result of increased congestion on the motorway is greater use of another local roadthe A3which over the last 12 months has, tragically, come to be known as a black spot. It is used as a relief road by motorists wanting to avoid congestion on the M3 and there has been a significant increase in traffic, which has resulted in more accidents, and the county council has had to make considerable changes in the layout of the road network. It has not, however, got to grips with the fundamental problem, which requires significant investment.
Amid all that procrastination, confusion and buck passing, my constituents are suffering, and I hope that Ministers will take that point very seriously indeed. The consequences of the lack of planning are borne by residents, and there is no better example than my constituents who live in the beautiful, historic village of Old Basing. The area has narrow lanes and few footpaths. At Old Basing infants school, which is beautiful and well respected, traffic volume is so high that even parents who live nearby are forced to use their cars to take their children to school.
I could give many such examples from my constituency, but time is short so I will conclude my contribution to this important debate. My constituents do not want forests of policy papers and a maze of funding streams; they want the Government to understand that Basingstoke has a transport infrastructure gap. The Government cannot ignore the problem any longer. They cannot simply hand on housing targets without providing proper plans and proper funding for increased infrastructure. If they do not feel that they are well placed to develop such plans, they should leave it to local people, who understand what is needed for our community, to draw up the plans and see them to fruition.
Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): I am certainly not one to dwell on the negative, but it has to be said that the appalling fragmentation of the rail services under the Tories has left us with a nightmare scenario in west Wales. Not only do we have track problems, which have to be sorted out by one company, and then other companies charging huge sums of money to the rail operators for relatively old rolling stock, but we have a complicated situation that involves using two rail companies to get from Llanelli to London. Yes, indeed: I have to travel with two companiesArriva and First Great Westernevery week.
Unfortunately, as only 74 per cent. of the First Great Western trains arrive on time, that can lead to all sorts of difficulties in Swansea, where Arriva has to pick up the tab. When I travel home from Parliament on a Thursday evening, I quite often find myself travelling by bus or taxi as Arriva desperately tries to get passengers to their destinationsand, in particular, tries to get passengers who want to get the ferry to Ireland to Fishguard on time.
Nia Griffith: Absolutely. I am just about to come to that. We have already made a good start. The issue is that there has been such fragmentation that it is taking a long time to put all the bits back together again. We started with that disadvantage. The Independent got it wrong yesterday and had me as Mr. and my age as 60, but, given that the hon. Gentleman is facing me, perhaps he could notice the difference.
It is heartening to see how many people in west Wales use the trains now, but they deserve a much better deal than they are getting. Unfortunately, the huge charges that the ROSCOs are demanding for rolling stock mean that we are still short of carriages on some trains, with people standing for considerable distances. We have some spectacular views along the coast in my constituency, but coastal erosion is causing considerable concern west of Llanelli. Since privatisation, we have yet another company that is responsible for the track. With that Tory legacy of so many different companies, it is all too easy to shift the blame around and infinitely more difficult to improve the services.
I endorse the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mrs. James) about the First Great Western service from Cardiff to Swansea that currently leaves at 17.18, but is threatened. The new timetable comes in on Monday. Only the week before last, when my hon. Friend and I went to see for ourselves what was happening on the 17.18 train from Cardiff, we saw that the preceding train was absolutely full and that the platform immediately filled up again with a new crowd of people. When we got on the 17.18 train it, too, was full. It just does not seem to make any commercial sense to remove that train, leaving a huge number of people to try to squash into the next train. It is a real exercise in alienating ones loyal customers. I urge the Minister to do whatever he can to influence First Great Western to retain that service.
We also need to completely rethink our attitude to Sunday services. Our attitude to Sunday timetables assumes that no one wants to travel on Sunday, but, with increased leisure opportunities, many people would like to make greater use of the trains on Sundays for days out, weekends away, visiting friends and family, or getting to an airport to go on holiday. Current Sunday timetables make that difficult. The first train eastwards from Llanelli does not leave until after 11 oclock in the morning, and we all know how crowded the few trains that run on a Sunday evening can be, as people try to come home from weekends away.
Inevitably, all too often that means that people turn to their cars, with the subsequent environmental consequences. We need some enterprising thinking about providing a much better service and promoting the use of rail travel on Sundays. One excellent example of encouraging the use of the train for an enjoyable day out is the work done by the Heart of Wales Line Travellers Association, which recently celebrated its 25th birthday. Its excellent work in promoting day and weekend excursions is an example to all and we would like to see a lot more of that type of approach. People really do want to use the trains and we therefore need to continue to pull together the fragmented serviceand use a Government hands-on approach to ensure improvements in the provision.
Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con):
We have had a most interesting debate. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith), who said that there are no direct links to her constituency. She should try getting to Shropshire, as I
said to the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris), last week.
Our debate began with a fine performance by my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), the shadow Secretary of State. We then heard a less scintillating performance by thegenuine Secretary of State, who failed to give the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) a commitment on the Birmingham gateway. When he responded to an intervention made by my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), he completely failed to understand that he was talking about an open access agreement that required no public subsidy whatever.
We heard a characteristically narcoleptic performance from the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael), before we moved on to the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter), who gave us a glorious dinosaur attack on rail privatisation that wholly ignored Rod Eddingtons praise for the private sectors vital involvement in transport. The hon. Gentleman also made an intemperate attack on my absent hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson), which was picked up by my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson), who made a powerful case for transport decisions to be taken locally by elected councillors. He gave telling examples of the way in which poor infrastructure has held back economic growth.
The hon. Member for Burnley (Kitty Ussher) began her speech with an amazing question. She asked the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland whether he took the train back to his constituency. Perhaps the Government Whips Office should give the hon. Lady a map. For her information, Stavanger has the nearest railway station to the hon. Gentlemans constituencyperhaps he would be more interested in the location of airports. The hon. Lady then descended into a rant against rail privatisation. Labour Members must make up their minds about this: they cannot take credit for the 50 per cent. increase in passengersspectacular growthyet keep knocking privatisation.
My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. Fraser) certainly won the award for shirt of the debate. He put forward a powerful case for the duelling of the A11 and described small junction improvements that can have a disproportionatelylarge impact. Such improvements are exactly as recommended in Eddington. We then heard from the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mrs. James), who made interesting comments about the difficulties regarding local rail services. She criticised the franchise and the consultation process. My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller) made a clear and thorough speech in which she set out very clearly and well the grievous problems that are caused when there is increased house building without any increase in infrastructure capacity to match the huge demands for various modes of transport.
My hon. Friend ended her speech by attacking the procrastination, confusion and buck passing of the Governmentbut, of course, that goes back a long way. The Labour party manifesto in 1997 promised to
develop an integrated transport policy to fight congestion and pollution.
I will have failed if in five years time there are not ... far fewer journeys by car. Its a tall order but I urge you to hold me to it.
I agree to keep to that commitment.
Will traffic be reduced in overall terms across the UK,
Yes, because all local authorities ... will have to abide by the legislation that is in place which has to do with precisely that, the reduction of road traffic.
I said that there would be fewer car journeys.[ Official Report, 20 December 1999; Vol. 341, c. 532.]
In 1998, A new deal for transport: better for everyone was published. That White Paper promised an integrated transport policy and a shift in road investment from building new roads to maintaining and managing the existing road networks. It proposed to address the perceived fragmentation of rail by creating the Strategic Rail Authority to provide
a unified vision and promote the interests of passengers and freight customers.
So, what happened to the Strategic Rail Authority? The shadow authority was established in 1999 and the SRA itself was put on a formal legal basis by the Transport Act 2000. The authority ended its shadow existence in February 2001. However, after the Railways Act 2005 had been passed, the authority was wound up and its functions were transferred to the Department for Transport rail group. So much for the unified vision.
Next, in December 1999, the Government launched a 10-year investment plan to improve Britains transport systems. The plan, which was intended to provide a framework for large-scale capital investment in the UKs network, was to cost £8 billion to 2010. The Deputy Prime Minister said at that time:
It will be a 10-year route map for a transport system fit for the next century, with milestones along the way.
The plan will get Britain moving and give the people of this country a transport system on which they can rely.[ Official Report, 20 July 2000; Vol. 354, c. 552.]
He promised 360 miles of strategic road network improvements to remove bottlenecks, 80 major trunk road schemes, 100 new bypasses, 130 other major local road improvement schemes, and completion of 40 road schemes in the Highways Agency targeted programme of improvements. On the railways, he promised a 50 per cent. increase in use measured by passenger kilometres,
an 80 per cent. increase in rail freight, improvements in service quality, more punctual and reliable trains, and less overcrowding.
Anne Main (St. Albans) (Con): Will my hon. Friend join me in asking the Government to make a speedy funding decision on the Thameslink 2000 project, which has just got off the buffers of the planning process?
There is no question who is to blame. In June 2001, the right hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mr. Byers) took over as Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. On 15 January 2002, in an interview with The Guardian, he saidI urge Ministers to listen to this:
Its now our responsibility. There can be no more excuses, I want to draw a line in the sand. Its our responsibility. We cant blame the Tories any more.
In the very same month, much to the chagrin of the new Secretary of State, the noble Lord Birt was brought in to advise No. 10 with blue-sky thinking on transport, but he angered the Transport Sub-Committee by refusing to appear before it to reveal his thinking. Meanwhile, the Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions published its assessment of the 10-year plana crushing assessment. The Committee said that the report was mistaken, wrong, ill balanced, incomprehensible and over-optimistic.
On we went, and in May 2002 the right hon. Member for North Tyneside resigned, to be replaced by the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, South-West (Mr. Darling). In December, the new Secretary of State unveiled a new £5.5 billion package of transport improvements, but revealed that the Government had spectacularly miscalculated the amount of traffic in Britains roads. He warned that motorists were likely to spend up to 20 per cent. more time in traffic jams by 2010 and admitted that the targets originally set by the Deputy Prime Minister would not be met. The Government thundered on with another White Paper, The Future of Transport, which was published in July 2004. It stated:
We need a transport network that can meet the challenges of a growing economy and the increasing demand for travel,
The Government have failedthey have failed miserably. Let me cite three outside organisations in support of my case. The Confederation of British Industry has found that 86 per cent. of businesses regard UK road links as important, and 94 per cent. of those companies say that congestion is a problem. This afternoon, I met representatives of the Road Users Alliance, which says that congestion is costing business £15 billion to £20 billion a year. Tim Green, the alliances director, said that
Traffic has grown by 29 per cent. in the last 10 years and road capacity has increased by less than 2 per cent. The Government has totally underestimated the network that is required despite
having taken £400 billion in taxes from road users but having spent only £7 billion per year on roads.
In September 2006, the survey carried out by the British Chambers of Commerce, which represents 100,000 UK companies of all sizes, showed that 80 per cent. feel that there is a problem with road congestion that affects their business locally, regionally and nationally. The British Chambers of Commerce says that we are rapidly approaching Gridlock Britain unless a determined effort is made to improve our roads, removing pinch points and managing the network better to facilitate smooth flow and reliability of journey time.
Now, we come to the Eddington report, which is400 pages long in the Vote Office, but covers more than 1,000 pages if one includes the annexes on the internet. There are elements of the report that we strongly support. We have consistently supported the disproportionate gains of small schemes. Paragraph 199 on page 38 of the smaller volume entitled Advice to Government points out that small junction improvements often cost below £20 million, but show wider benefit:cost ratios well in excess of 4 and some going up to between 8 and 10. That was a point picked up by my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk. Many smaller road and rail schemes have been supported by Members throughout the House. Will the Government clarify tonight whether it is their intention to reinstate those schemes before 2015?
Eddington explores at length the difficulties of our current planning system and makes radical proposals to introduce an inquisitorial system and what would effectively be guillotines on time. There is an extraordinary graph showing that the inquiry on the M6 toll took 150 days, and the terminal 5 inquiry took several years and cost £60 million. These are significant delays and costs. Do the Government intend to pursue the proposal?
At the centre of the report is road pricing. Eddington enthusiastically supports the creation of a national road pricing scheme, on the ground that if it were introduced it would reduce the need for infrastructure capacity increases. The Opposition are convinced that the travelling public will react to the price mechanism and change their behaviour. In order to manage demand effectively, the price must vary. We do not support simplistic congestion charge schemes. A good example of the benefits of a variable road pricing scheme is the one that I saw this summer on the SR91 in southern California.
There is a road connecting Riverside, where many people live, and Orange county. The four lanes were jammed solid morning and evening. High occupancy vehicle lanes, which the Government are keen on, were added. Sadly, those were a waste of time. They were also jammed solid morning and evening. The four HOV lanes were converted to high occupancy toll lanes, with a varying toll. The number of vehicles doubled and the speed trebled.
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