HC Deb 23 July 1975 vol 896 cc542-4
17. Mr. Giles Shaw

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the roads programme, in the light of the Government's White Paper on policy to combat inflation.

Mr. Crosland

We shall continue to invest in road construction and improvement where it gives us the best economic and environmental value for the money available at the time.

Mr. Shaw

Although I understand the Minister's reply, may I express my disappointment? Is he aware that approximately£80 million has been earmarked for the Kirkham Gate-Dishforth motorway, which will run through my constituency, and that a further sum has been earmarked for the road connecting Thackley. Shipley and Leeds? Is he aware that many people are already faced with planning blight in view of the Department's proposals? Is he further aware that the sums that I have mentioned are already affecting the lives of some of my constituents? Does he agree that now is the time to withdraw consultations until we arrive at a better economic situation?

Mr. Crosland

I understand that on more than one occasion, and rightly so, the hon. Gentleman has raised the issue of the road that is to go right through Pudsey, on which consultations are now proceeding. On the more general point, there has already been a large cut in the road building programme, in respect of both urban and inter-urban roads, as compared with what was intended in the 1973 White Paper, which was the previous Conservative Government's last statement on the matter. There has been a major shift away from road construction towards public transport. Nevertheless, in some parts of the country, including my own area of South Humberside, new or improved roads can give not only a healthy economic return but an extremely important environmental return. Therefore, I do not think it would be right to say, at this moment, "Let us chop the new road building programme altogether".

Mr. Cant

At the risk of being unpopular, I ask my right hon. Friend not to listen too closely to the strident voices of the anti-road lobby. Will my right hon. Friend try to persuade the members of that lobby that all the reports, including those from his own Department, in- dicate clearly that whatever the advantages of rail and public service transport, there will be many more motor cars and lorries to be accommodated in this country by 2000 A.D.?

Mr. Crosland

What my hon. Friend says is absolutely correct, and we must take such matters into account. At the same time, we must take into account the arguments put forward by people who take a contrary view. It is my task to listen with as much care and attention as I can to all arguments on this point.

Mr. Fox

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that many Members on both sides of the House believe that any further cuts in the road building programme should least affect those projects which will show a high economic return, and particularly the roads to the ports?

Mr. Crosland

I have a lot of sympathy with that point of view, for constituency reasons, as I am very much concerned not only with Grimsby but with Hull. I am much concerned that extremely high priority should be attached to the roads inland from those two ports. One might say that they are a good deal more important than the Humber Bridge. I hope that that remark has not been recorded. [Laughter.]

Mr. Jay

If we are to have further major economies in public expenditure, will my right hon. Friend assure the House that we shall not have merely a flat rate percentage cut for everything but that there will be greater cuts for the many low-priority road schemes, as compared with much higher priority programmes?

Mr. Crosland

That is exactly what we are attempting to do. Since the Government came into office, two substantial cuts have already been made in the road building programme. Of course, it is our endeavour to approach this matter bearing in mind both economic and environmental priorities. What my right hon. Friend has in mind is what we are trying to do the whole of the time.