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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, before we move to the Statement on the roads review, I wish to remind the House that the Companion indicates that discussion on a Statement should be confined to brief comments and questions for clarification. Peers who speak at length do so at the expense of other noble Lords.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall now repeat a Statement on the strategic review of trunk roads being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Minister of State for Transport. The Statement is as follows:
"We are committed to modernisation and prudent public finances. These themes formed the backdrop to the roads review. The outcome is not the grandiose but impractical notions of our predecessors, but realistic, practical decisions which will help business, help people and help Britain. Trunk roads are vital for business and personal travel. They carry a third of passenger traffic and over a half of freight. Traffic is expected to grow over the next 20 years by about 50 per cent. By the year 2016 a quarter of our trunk roads will be seriously congested. To do nothing about this is not an option. We need a new approach, building on that set out in our integrated transport White Paper. A New Deal for Trunk Roads in England is therefore based on the fundamental principle that trunk roads must have a central role in our integrated national transport system.
"There are four other key points in our approach. We will make better use of the existing network. Building new roads will not be the first option. We will help motorists by investing more in road maintenance. We will reduce the negative impact of trunk roads on people and the environment through safer roads, less noise, less pollution and less intrusion. We will ensure that trunk road planning is integrated with regional land use and transport strategies. We are giving the Highways Agency new objectives. We are putting more emphasis on its role as the operator of the network rather than the road builder. We shall look at options for charging users on trunk roads and using the revenue to maintain and improve the network. We have already announced that we are looking at continuing charging on the Dartford crossing and using the income to help deliver integrated transport objectives on the M.25. Moreover, today I can announce that projects to make better use of the network will benefit from 60 per cent. more funding by 2001-2.
"Roads are a vital national asset which has been poorly maintained. Without a change in direction, the state of roads will worsen. We will begin to put this right. We have already increased the provision for capital maintenance of roads by 50 per cent. for the current year. I can announce today that, in addition, maintenance spending overall will go up by a further 20 per cent. by the year 2001-2. We will progressively tackle the backlog and maintain trunk roads at minimum 'whole-life' costs. Taken with our proposals to encourage less damaging six-axle lorries, this strategy will save money, enhance safety and reduce disruption.
"The trunk road network has a good safety record and we will establish targets to reduce road casualties further. I am pleased to be able to tell the House that we have set up a ring-fenced safety budget for small safety projects. This will grow steadily to £50 million in 2001-2.
"I can also tell the House that we will use low noise surfaces for new roads and, where appropriate, when an existing road is re-surfaced. We will also have a dedicated budget to tackle some of the most difficult existing noise problems.
"Getting the planning framework right is crucial. I can today outline three measures to ensure that such a framework is put in place. First, future trunk road planning will be part of the regional planning system and set in the context of the overall transport and land use strategy for each region. Secondly, we are proposing to transfer some 40 per cent. of the existing trunk road network to local highway authorities. These roads should be managed by local authorities as part of local transport plans. Thirdly, we have ended the discredited 'predict and provide' approach to road building. Instead, our new appraisal approach is based on the five criteria of integration, environment, safety, the economy and accessibility. The new approach will become an increasingly important tool for appraising alternative options across all forms of transport.
"I turn now to the review of the trunk roads programme. For the first time ever we conducted a wide-ranging public consultation on the review with meetings in each region in which my right honourable friend the Member for Edinburgh East and Musselburgh played a prominent part. My noble friend Lady Hayman met MPs to hear their views. Some 14,000 written representations were received. Together this gave us a clear picture of regional priorities.
"For the first time ever we analysed objectively the problems we were seeking to address using broadly based criteria. For the first time ever we have provided financial stability through our three-year spending programme and seven year transport investment plan which will enable our programme to go ahead. And for the first time ever we have a practical and focused programme. Gone is our predecessor's massive wish list of 150 schemes, some of which would never have been built, over a timescale which was never specified and for which money was never assured.
"We have looked at the schemes which could be started in the foreseeable future and produced a programme that is funded and delivers our objectives. This is the 37 schemes in our targeted programme of improvements, all of which can be started within seven years. Of these, the largest category is safety and healthier communities, reflecting the importance we attach to these objectives. This includes much needed bypasses which will take large volumes of
"Another category, regeneration and integration, includes junction improvements to remove bottlenecks which are hampering development, dualling schemes to improve access to remote areas, and schemes to facilitate access to a rail-freight terminal and an airport. Finally, the jobs and prosperity category includes schemes to deal with bottlenecks and others needed to support economic growth in particular locations. Many of the schemes which are not taken forward reflect serious transport problems which need to be addressed. There will be a programme of studies which will look at practical options and develop integrated transport solutions.
"The House will not expect me to give details of every scheme but I should cover two particular issues. The motorway network is the core of the road system and essential to the nation's economy. A number of schemes for widening the existing motorway network were under consideration. We had to balance their economic benefits against the impact on the environment and local communities.
"In some cases, for example the proposals to widen the M.6 between Junctions 11A and 19, we propose to study all the integrated transport options, including the shifting of traffic from road to rail, in order to develop the best integrated transport solution to deal with the serious problems on this route between Birmingham and Manchester. For the first time we have brought Railtrack and the Highways Agency into a concordat to work on problems such as this.
"I now turn to the M.25. The M.25 is a strategic motorway which is important to the entire country. It is severely congested, which is bad for the economy and the environment. There are no easy answers. We need a package of measures including traffic and demand management and attractive public transport alternatives. We are setting in hand a major study to develop such solutions. Meanwhile, we propose a number of short-term measures such as closed circuit TV cameras covering the whole motorway and the extension of variable speed limits. We will also investigate using the hard shoulder as a climbing lane, subject to safety considerations.
"But the problems between Junctions 12 (the M.3 junction) and 15 (the M.4 junction) are so acute that providing some extra capacity has to be part of the strategy. This is the most heavily used section of our motorway network with flows of up to 200,000 vehicles a day. The most up-to-date traffic management measures have already been applied to this section. More capacity is needed to allow a breathing space while wider integrated transport policies take effect and to allow for the gradual introduction of the necessary traffic and demand management strategies. We have therefore concluded that this widening scheme should go ahead. We are, however, cancelling the two other widening schemes on the M.25 between Junctions 15 and 19.
"There is also one scheme that brings together economic, environmental and heritage issues. Stonehenge is unique--a world heritage site. Yet its setting has been described by the Public Accounts Committee as a 'national disgrace'. The solution developed by my department, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and English Heritage is to put the 2km section of the A.303 which passes the stones in a cut-and-cover tunnel. At least a third of the costs will be found from heritage sources. The scheme will have major heritage and environmental benefits. It will remove a bottleneck and improve the traffic flow on the A.303. It shows what can be achieved with cross-departmental working.
"Judgments about roads are never easy. The policy I have announced today is good for the economy because it gives priority to maintenance and making best use of an asset as well as investing in a number of urgent schemes. It is good for safety and the environment. We have reduced dramatically the number of sites of special scientific interest affected by the programme. It makes good financial sense with a practical, deliverable, programme for the future. A New Deal for Trunk Roads in England sets out a radical approach to trunk road policy which is based firmly on our integrated transport strategy. I commend it to the House".
Lord Moynihan: My Lords, two days ago I had the good fortune to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, on his promotion. As your Lordships will recall, the Opposition Front Bench foreign affairs team mounted a long-running campaign which included parliamentary Questions in another place, repeated statements from this Dispatch Box and a number of interventions, all aimed at catching the Prime Minister's eye in the run-up to the reshuffle so that the noble Lord would gain promotion. We sincerely congratulate him.
Noble Lords may also have noticed that, as foreign affairs spokesman, I find myself in the somewhat unusual position of responding to the Statement on behalf of the Opposition. However, this provides me with a unique and objective standpoint which has refreshed memories of the close relationship that I established with Department of Transport officials during my time as the Department of the Environment Minister responsible for planning. I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I simply wish to ask him the following questions.
Does the Minister agree that more than 500 communities waiting for relief from congestion and pollution from the building of bypasses will be bitterly disappointed by this Statement? What criteria have the Government used to exclude the vast majority of schemes? How many bypasses are planned for this year, next year and the following year? What will be the total over the lifetime of this Parliament?
What significance does the Government's decision on the continuation of the Dartford crossing tolls, announced last week and referred to again in the Statement, have for local road users in terms of hypothecation, transparency and fairness? Is the principle behind that decision to be extended, for example, to the Skye road bridge, the Severn bridges and the bridge over the mouth of the Humber?
All the schemes due to be scrapped as a result of the review have been the subject of numerous analyses, revealing real problems--for example, the M.1 and M.6 widening. What plans do the Government have to resolve those problems quickly? I understand the studies announced in the Statement; however, it is the speed of action on which I seek to elicit a response from the Minister.
Will the Minister inform the House as to why--perhaps the most surprising point of all--the Secretary of State no longer regards the widening of the M.25 as "lunacy"? What made him change his mind? The Secretary of State might well consider the maxim that Ministers who do U-turns on motorways seldom survive to tell the story.
Behind every cloud there is a silver lining, and we on this side of the House welcome the establishment of properly resourced and technologically equipped regional road centres. Will the Minister tell the House how quickly they will be up and functioning?
Finally, the Government appear to have begun to adopt the new "Prescott's law"--the absurd notion that placing traffic lights on busy roundabouts relieves congestion. It does not. Those of us more fortunate than the Minister who travel to Parliament from the London Borough of Lambeth, south of the river, have in recent days experienced the chaos, delays and increased pollution resulting from the imposition of traffic lights on the roundabout immediately south of Lambeth Bridge. Perhaps I may therefore ask the Minister whether, with his customary courtesy, he will forward any policy statements, research studies or reports his department has collated on the effects of traffic lights placed on busy roundabouts.