HC Deb 28 July 1977 vol 936 cc1194-210

4.10 a.m.

Mr. Tony Newton (Braintree)

I am glad of the opportunity to raise the subject of transport policy and the environment in Essex. The title of the debate is widely drawn in the hope that some of my hon. Friends may wish to contribute on the many matters arising out of transport policy in a county the size of Essex, but my main purpose is to talk about roads problems in the area generally and in my constituency particularly. There are many other transport problems that I could raise, but I am reluctant to take up the time of the House at this hour.

An important part of the background to the debate is the reductions in public expenditure and the consequent problems for roads spending as well as for other forms of public spending. Let me make clear immediately, if only to pre-empt a possible line of reply that the Minister may have been planning, that I have not raised this debate in order to play the game of agreeing with public expenditure cuts in general but demanding more public expenditure, especially in one's constituency, in particular.

I start with some general observations on the apparent priority given to transport expenditure, especially roads expenditure, on the longer-term basis—without necessarily arguing that the figures for this year are wrong. The recent White Paper gives striking figures about what has happened and what is intended to happen. Paragraph 246 says: measures to contain public expenditure have already resulted in large reductions in the planned level of expenditure on the construction of new roads by central and local government—from £1.000 million in 1971–72 to £630 million in 1977–78. That is an enormous cut of about 40 per cent. Paragraph 247 says: investment in the English motorway and trunk road system will be no higher by the end of the decade than the reduced level for the current year. After this enormous cut, we have the apparently strategic aim that roads expenditure will be held at this severely-truncated level for almost as far [...] as the eye can see.

I am not arguing that the money is not right this year, but I question whether it is an adequate reflection of the priority that we apply to roads expenditure in the longer term. People sometimes talk about the "road lobby". It appears to be a firmly-held view that there has been an enormously successful, commercially-motivated campaign to build roads and that this has dominated Government policy in recent years. I tell these people that I am more worried by the extent to which the anti-road lobby has become the conventional wisdom in a considerable part of the public discussion of these matters and in the totality of public expenditure. I am worried about the failure of many people to recognise that, far from being environmentally damaging, roads, especially by-passes for small towns and villages, are critical for preserving the environment of many hundreds of thousands of people throughout Essex and, no doubt, in many other places.

The White Paper contains some welcome words, but for reasons that are implicit in what I have said I am doubtful whether the Government's policies and the decisions that are being made measure up to their aspirations and apparent acceptance of the environmental points that I have sought to make.

I yield to no one in my admiration of the work that has been done in recent years by the conservation groups in raising environmental issues and making people more aware of environmental problems—not only traffic but noise and pollution in various forms. However, in one sense they have succeeded in a curious kind of overkill that is now, in terms of some road schemes, actively damaging to conservation and damaging to the environment. There is a need for us in public discussion clearly and firmly to redress that balance and the bias that has begun to creep into policy against road expenditure without recognising what it can do for the environment.

There is also the industrial efficiency factor, which cannot be dismissed. The Orange Paper and the White Paper which succeeded it were sensible documents in getting away from the crude belief that it is possible to solve transport problems by pushing huge quantities of traffic back on the railways. That is shown to be a myth in the Orange Paper and the White Paper. However, it follows that if the railways do not provide an easy answer to traffic and transport problems, there will be a substantial efficiency penalty to be paid if we put inadequate resources into improving the road network. With those general observations I turn to Essex.

Even if the Minister did not fully accept what I have just said, even if he feels that the priority attached to road expenditure in the Government's plans for the years ahead is absolutely right, I would still want to maintain—I have no doubt that I should have strong support from my hon. Friends who represent other Essex constituencies—that Essex has not been fairly treated in the allocation of its share of the resources available for roads expenditure. We have a county whose population has grown rapidly. That is partly as a result of the movement, encouraged by Government and Greater London Council policy over many years, of population out of London. In my view nothing like enough has been done to create the additional infrastructure to support that policy, not just in terms of roads but in respect of hospitals and the whole range of other public facilities.

As I have said to the Secretary of State for the Environment, there is a good deal of resentment in Essex and comparable counties around London that, having officially pushed large chunks of population out of London into Essex and failed to provide facilities to cope with the increased population, the Government now face us with a switch of policy that is moving resources back from counties around London into London. That cannot be right. Grave population pressure problems having been created in Essex and comparable counties, we have a right to expect that the Government will solve the problems that have been created for us before shifting back the resources to where the people have ceased to be.

I am not in any way making a general attack on the concept of improving policy for renovating the inner cities. All that I say is that it does not make sense to move the population out of the cities, to fail to provide it with facilities and then to move money back into the cities again. I think that the plans for such a policy in the next few years need further consideration.

This year Essex has suffered as a result of the Government's redistribution of resources through the rate support grant. There has been a loss of £15 million in the needs element under the rate support grant. On top of that, the transport supplementary grant has been reduced from £2.3 million in 1976–77 to only £36,000 in 1977–78 at November 1975 prices. In November 1976 prices that is a little more, but we are still talking about a drop from £2.3 million to around £40,000 in transport supplementary grant apart from the general reduction in the resources available to the country under rate support grant as a whole as a result of £15 million being knocked off that.

The county contends that both the RSG cuts and the TSG cuts arise primarily because it was among the local government organisations which actually did what the Government asked them to do in restraining their expenditure in previous years. In the case of TSG, the result of the county heeding the Government's requests was that it fell below the threshold level by reference to which these things are calculated. To all intents and purposes, therefore, having done what the Government wanted in a national economic context, the county finds itself penalised now by having virtually no transport supplementary grant at all.

The county believes, and I believe, that that is very unfair. I know that the county has made strong representations to the Minister about this. I hope that he will re-examine this matter and put it right in future years.

The effect of these combined reductions of grant from central Government on the roads expenditure can be imagined. The result is that in the present year the county hardly has the capital resources to do more than one significant project anywhere in a very sizeable county. I cannot speak about the effects of this on the whole of Essex. I would not attempt to do so. However, I should like to comment on the effects on, and some of the problems within, my Braintree constituency.

In the last few months, at least six parish councils have formally approached me about their worries as they see that the schemes they believe to be needed are fading into the distance. I have also had approaches from many individual consti- tuents and groups concerned with particular problems in particular towns and villages.

I want to make my comments under two heads, the first being that of the Al20. I should like to refer to "Strategy for the South-East: 1976 Review", published in 1976, and to quote from what is said about the road system in the South-East generally. Paragraph 5.95 states, There is a relatively limited number of existing local authority roads in the region which are inter-urban links of regional significance in their own right and which are operationally and environmentally inadequate for the function they have to perform. While it is possible now for 'less-than-national' and 'more-than-local' needs to be identified, the present allocation system for funds does not appear to accord due weight to such needs. Paragraph 5.99 states, The priority given by the Government to trunk roads to seaports is noted and supported but there is a need also to improve local authority roads—such as the Al20 to Harwich and the other Haven Ports. The document does not specifically link those two statements, but I should like to link them.

The Al20 is very much one of those roads which are less than national but undoubtedly more than local, and on which I doubt whether the present allocation system gives due weight to the need for improvement.

This is of particular concern to me because the Al20 cuts right across my constituency, and there is no doubt that the amount of traffic on it has grown enormously with the growth in port traffic from Harwich and the other Haven Ports, partly stimulated by our entry into the Common Market. The road enters my constituency from the constituency of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck), who has specifically asked me to say tonight that he would want to express his concern about the situation. From Marks Tey in his constituency, it comes into mine. It goes through Coggeshall, a very old, very beautiful small town with medieval streets, in many cases with houses whose front doors open straight on to the road, with virtually no pavement, and whose residents have huge juggernauts going past their front doors, shaking the buildings to bits and doing enormous damage to what is undoubtedly one of the nicest towns in the county.

The road then passes into Braintree where it clashes with cross-flows of traffic on other roads, which causes enormous congestion and contributes to the damage to another significant conservation area, namely, Bradford Street, which is not itself on the Al20 but which contains many fine buildings and is being damaged by the consequential traffic problems.

It then passes into the village of Rayne, another pleasant village which is unfortunate enough to have a relatively straight road going through it which carries all this traffic at quite high speeds. These problems, already very serious because of the growing port traffic, are now being exacerbated by the opening of a significant stretch of the M11. They have passed the point where we can simply defer doing anything about them.

Since my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) is present I should point out that that road leaves Rayne in my constituency and rapidly passes into Dunmow in my hon. Friend's constituency, which suffers from similar problems.

I believe that in the context in which I have already quoted from the South-East Strategy Review the Minister's Department should be prepared to recognise the importance of this road and the need to put more Ministry funds into doing what is essential—to provide a by pass or other relieving measures for the towns that I have mentioned.

That is the first problem on which I wanted to touch. The second is the problem in and around the county town of Chelmsford. My hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) is equally concerned about the problems that are being created there. It is a town which has grown a great deal, not least as a commuter railhead with all the traffic that that implies in and out of the town morning and evening. The result is that the town itself is clogged and the traffic is forced on to utterly unsuitable rural lanes and does great damage to all the villages, a considerable number of which are in my constituency and in one of which I live.

There is an urgent need for roads to relieve these problems but once again they are slipping further and further into the future. Not only does that worry me, but it will do very great damage to the environment of what are in all cases very pleasant villages which badly need relief.

There is another specific problem that I should like to mention and in which the Minister is also involved. That is the Army and Navy roundabout which is the junction between the Al2 Ministry trunk road and the A130. The Minister must be familiar with this problem. If not, his Department certainly is. I shall not attempt to go over the whole background to this. The Minister knows that there have been exhibitions, inquiries and in the end long years of delay over deciding any route for a Chelmsford—Al2 bypass. The present situation is that the Minister's original proposals were in effect ruled out by a public inquiry and no one is yet sure what exactly is to happen. We hope that we shall learn something later in the year.

Meanwhile it has been agreed that it simply cannot be left as it stands and that a fly-over has to be put over the roundabout in order to prevent almost total seizure. There is now an argument between the county and the Department about the sharing of costs. From what the county surveyor said to me today, the Minister's Department has said that it is prepared to pay only 36 per cent. I hope that I have the figure right. That was the figure that I was given during a telephone conversation earlier today.

If that is so, I want to ask the Minister seriously to take another look at this. The major beneficiary of this scheme will be the trunk road traffic on the Ministry road and the Al2. Because of the delay in having a proper by pass, at least some considerable measure of blame can be attached to the Department over the years. In view of the cut in resources already available to Essex for road schemes, it is disgraceful that the Department is not prepared to offer some more generous arrangement for the funding of this particular scheme. At the minimum, a 50:50 basis is required. I hope to hear of some sign of movement on that from the Minister tonight.

I have two further issues that I should like to take up with the Minister. The Al2 is roughly the boundary of my constituency. Undoubtedly it has been of great benefit to the villages and towns for which it provides bypasses. But, because of the grave lack of proper facilities, especially for heavy lorries and coaches, anywhere along the road and certainly in my constituency, there is a serious tendency for traffic which was supposed to have been kept out of the villages and towns to go back into them because they are the only places where food and other facilities can be obtained. This is a particular problem in Hatfield Peverel, Witham and Kelvedon. I hope that the Minister will look at the facilities with a view to taking positive action to keep out of the villages and towns the traffic that should be kept out and for which the road was designed.

I recognise that many of these problems will not be solved for some time. Meanwhile our towns and villages are suffering increasing dangers from the speed and volume of traffic. Yet it is sometimes almost impossible to get anything done to apply reasonable speed limits or to achieve pedestrian crossings, both of which are necessary to protect our children, the elderly and others.

There is a strong feeling, shared by the Chelmsford District Council, that the Ministry's present rules for speed limits and pedestrian crossings are too restrictive. Some people believe that the Ministry's attitude is that a speed limit or pedestrian crossing cannot be established until enough people are killed on a particular road. I understand that there must be some limits, but the Ministry's rules are too rigid. They do not allow local authorities sufficient discretion to take account of local needs and opinion. I hope that the Minister will examine that problem.

I shall sum up. The first thing that I want tonight is a clear recognition of the environmental importance of expenditure on roads. I do not want mere verbal recognition in a White Paper but some clear recognition that it will be reflected in expenditure plans.

Secondly, I want an undertaking that the treatment of Essex under the transport supplementary grant system will be reviewed. It is not right that a county with a population of that size, and which has increased so much, should now be receiving practically no transport supplementary grant.

Thirdly, I want the Minister to say that he will look at the Al20 with a view to saying that the Ministry is willing to take a larger responsibility for paying for improvements to it, because of its "morethan-local" importance in the sense mentioned by the South-East Strategy Review. Fourthly, I want an undertaking that the Minister will look again at the question of Ministry contribution to the proposed fly-over at the Army and Navy roundabout. Fifthly, the Minister must look at the facilities for heavy lorries and coaches on the Al2. Finally, he should say that he will introduce a more flexible policy for speed limits and pedestrian crossings.

4.34 a.m.

Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden)

I shall not detain the House at this late hour, but I must support the general comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr. Newton) and lend emphasis to many of the particular points that he made. I do not have my hon. Friend's experience of the county of Essex, but it is apparent that a critical situation faces the county. I have considerable sympathy with the case he advanced, and I support his pleas to the Minister.

I accept entirely the general trend of my hon. Friend's argument that we are making a case for the needs of our county against a background of severe public expenditure cuts. One cannot be unaware of that factor and one is not trying to ask the Minister for the impossible. But if the Department is responsible for making cuts, it must envisage their consequences and not simply say that it is a matter for the county to work out for itself. There must be an element of sympathy and co-operation from the Department towards the county, otherwise the county will not be able to cope with all the things it has to do.

The fact that the supplemental grant has been cut as much as it has places the county of Essex in an impossible situation in meeting its commitments in the upkeep and development of roads. If there is to be any kind of effective subsidy for public transport for the users in the county this year, some money must come out of the grant and therefore there will be less available for road maintenance. These are difficult decisions that face the county.

I wish to emphasise what my hon. Friend said about the Army and Navy fly-over project. It is a £530,000 scheme, and if the Ministry is determined to stick at a contribution of only 36 per cent., it will create a difficult situation for the county. That will have a consequential effect on other projects which are of great importance to the citizens of Essex. In other words, we cannot eat our cake and have it. We are working within a tight budget—indeed, a budget that we regard as over-restrictive—and we know that certain things will disappear altogether if priority is given to that project. We look to the Ministry to ease our burden on that project because it has implications that go beyond merely county considerations.

I am concerned on behalf of my constituents about what will happen to the A120 as that road leaves my hon. Friend's constituency and enters mine. The matter of a bypass for Great Dun mow is in the schedule and has managed to remain there, despite the cuts which have had to be made. It is a question whether it can remain in the schedule if the county is forced to divert money to the projects which have already been mentioned. Will money be taken out of the general kitty for bus transport so as to reduce the total amount available for road improvement?

The Ministry cannot wash its hands of this matter. Because of their effect on the county, it must follow through the decisions which it makes. The Minister should give some clearer comments about what he envisages might happen because these are matters that should concern his Ministry, as they certainly concern us.

For example, Essex puts at a rather low priority the development of the A604 compared with the development of the Al20. The counties of Cambridge and Suffolk take a different view of the priority for the development of the A604. If reduced resources are available, and if different counties vary in their judgment of the relative importance of the roads as though roads carrying heavy lorries from the Midlands to the ports, somebody must adjudicate if Essex is reacting by saying "We are being treated meanly by the Department. We have other projects but cannot be expected necessarily to be able to make every desirable improvement that could be enumerated".

Then there is the question of the M25. That is linked with the development of the A13, if we are speaking of the county as a whole. There has been a hold-up in the development of the M25, I believe because of legal complications. When that matter is resolved it also will have expensive implications for the county.

The prospect looms of a link between the M11 and Ml, which might be seen to have some connection with the flow of traffic towards Stansted Airport and the possible future development of that airport. I do not know what priority that has in the Department, but there may well be strong views in Essex about whether money should be diverted in that direction instead of to some of the projects we have mentioned tonight.

In the mean expenditure climate that the Department has forced on the county, the Minister has a duty to be more considerate with regard to the questions that he is forcing the county to answer. He should try to be understanding and make it easier for the county to see which priorities it is more sensible to observe. If he can oil the wheels to some extent by the reconsideration for which my hon. Friend called, he can perhaps make it possible for the county to reach more sensible decisions. That would be good not only for the county but perhaps for wider road pattern implications, and be of considerable help to the citizens of the county that my hon. Friend and I jointly represent, with others of my hon. Friends. I must naturally speak for my own constituents, who could be affected by the decisions implicit in the grant that the Department is making to the county.

4.43 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. John Horam)

The hon. Members for Braintree (Mr. Newton) and Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) concentrated on roads in Essex, and I, too, will concentrate mainly on the roads rather than other transport problems, especially as the hon. Member for Braintree has spoken about those matters on other occasions. Nevertheless, the hon. Gentleman was right to link the problems.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether it was right to keep road spending as a whole down to the levels we have seen this year. One must think of the relative spending on roads as opposed to the relative spending on other parts of the transport system. The hon. Gentleman has made it plain in previous debates which he has initiated that in an inflationary period we must be concerned about higher costs in the bus industry and on the railways leading to severe consequences for commuters and other travellers by bus and rail. Those consequences include the disappearance of bus services in parts of rural Essex, which is as badly hit as any other county in this respect. Clearly, at a time when costs are rising for inflationary reasons, that is something to which we must pay attention, not merely for social reasons. There is an economic factor here. People have to get to work. In addition, London and the towns near London need to sustain their economies and a vigorous commercial life. A sensible public transport system is part of that.

Our priorities must be seen in those terms. Those priorities give some marginal preference in the immediate future —it is not a large sum against the background of the total figures involved—to public transport, and that is right in terms of industrial and social needs, as well as of the policy to counter inflation.

Expenditure on roads—both local authority and Government—was running at about £1,000 million. That is now falling to about £630 million for new roads, not including expenditure on maintenance. That is still a large sum by any standard. For about 15 years we have enjoyed a very high level of expenditure on roads—a level unprecedented in our history. We have in that time established a motorway network and have made considerable improvements in most of our major roads, including some urban routes.

There has therefore been a sensible switch of resources which retains roads expenditure at a high level in relation to need. We have made it plain that, within the totals, we envisage a change in the philosophy of the roads programme, with less emphasis on the steady unrolling of a sort of Schlieffen plan for roads whereby we construct everything to a uniform standard along routes which have been marked down long ago.

Instead, we shall concentrate on meeting need where it is most pressing. Since we do not feel able or think it right to shift too much traffic from road to rail, we are concentrating on bypasses for villages and towns along industry routes. We accept the severe strains which are faced in many instances, strains which must be relieved as soon as possible. All of this makes for an integrated whole, a policy which hangs together.

The question of rate support grant and transport supplementary grant has been raised. I am not responsible for rate support grant. Within the Department, however, resources are not being shifted from the shires to the urban areas. On the contrary, it is plain from the White Paper that more money will be made available for rural bus services, for example, while urban bus services will have to live with totals of the kind they have at the moment.

Equally, there is more money made available for concessionary fare schemes. As they are poorest in the shire areas, that, too, will be an additional amount of money available for rural areas. As regards the resources deployed by my Department, there is likely to be a shift, though admittedly a small shift, from urban to rural areas.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the transport supplementary grant does not work well from the point of view of Essex. It is a problem with grants of this kind. It applies to the RSG. There has been considerable complaint about that from counties such as Cambridge, to the effect that when grants are worked out on a formula which is inevitably rather crude some counties will do worse than others, and often it is difficult to justify or even explain it in any meaningful terms. The Layfield Committee conducted a major investigation into this problem.

It is fair to say that Essex has not done very well. As a consequence, we are examining the formula for the distribution of TSG in the case of Essex as in the case of a number of other counties that do not do well from it, with a view to seeing what can be done. I make no commitment. The point has been repeatedly made, and we have taken it. So we are examining the formula for next year with this problem, among others, in mind. However, I make no commitment.

It partly reflects a history of low spending in relation to population in Essex. This has been a matter of the county's choice over previous years. We believe that every county has a right to make its distribution of resources between the various types of services. On the whole, Essex, although it has been a reasonable spender, has not been a very high spender per head of population.

The TSG is meant to help those with exceptional need. It is designed to operate above a threshold precisely for that reason. There has clearly been some misunderstanding by Essex of the way the grant works. That was plain in the early years. The misunderstanding has been ironed out. None the less, there was a problem—I do not quite know why, because everyone else seemed to understand it fairly well—which led Essex to misconstrue what was coming to it under the system as it works.

I come now to particular schemes and roads mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. As regards the Al20 to Harwich and the Haven Ports, as the hon. Gentleman knows—clearly he has read the White Paper—we attach great importance to the ports. They are among the very highest priorities in our road building schemes, and obviously we shall expect the local authorities, if they are responsible for all or part of a road, to reflect those general priorities, though obviously the authorities have their own choices about this matter. I assure the hon. Gentleman that that priority remains and that we attach the greatest importance to it. Therefore, if it is possible for spending to go on as it is now, that road should be well placed and schemes in connection therewith should maintain their existing priority.

Incidentally, we are reviewing all schemes as a result of the new policy we are adopting. That review will be fairly rapid. Schemes on roads to the ports will certainly be accorded not less than their present priority and, if possible, will be accorded higher priority.

I come next to the question of the Chelmsford bypass and the Army and Navy roundabout. I shall look into the question of the 36 per cent. grant offered by the Government, as I understand it, in the present state of negotiations, and I shall write to both hon. Gentlemen about that when I have had an opportunity to go into it. I am not immediately familiar with the present state of play on that, and, after I have looked into the matter, I shall write to them.

I am sure that hon. Gentlemen will accept that this has been an outstanding problem for some time, because of the result of the public inquiry into the Chelmsford south bypass. I do not accept any blame on the part of the Department in this respect. I think that it is a consequence of local fears and the nature of the public inquiry system, which is now leading to long delays. Whereas 10 years ago it took five years to build a road, it now takes 10 to 12 years. We are anxious to keep that delaying process to a minimum, and we are always looking for ways to shorten it, but on a difficult problem such as this it is not easy to do so.

Next, I take the A 12 and the question of the services on that road. This is a general problem on various routes which has been brought to our attention on more than one occasion by lorry drivers. We are anxious to see further facilities provided. Only the other week, I had a meeting with representatives of the Transport and General Workers' Union about this general problem. They have been pressing me for more toilet facilities and café facilities on these routes, because the drivers do not want to move off the routes and to have to go through small villages. I accept the general point in that respect, and, in looking into the question of the Army and Navy roundabout, I shall ask my officials to examine the situation on the Al2 and to write to the hon. Gentleman about that as well. I do not exactly know what the level of services is on the Al2, but I shall have it looked at to see whether any proposals are in hand to improve the state of affairs there.

I come to the question of speed limits. I think that, very often, people have a feeling that the Department's regulations are more inflexible than in fact they are.

It is not true, for example, that there must be a certain number of accidents before one can have a zebra crossing. Other factors are taken into account, such as the speeds travelled by motorists and lorry drivers over a particular stretch of road. It is important to have a speed limit related in some way to the speeds which are regarded by drivers as natural over a particular road, because if one sets it too far away from that level there is the problem of enforceability, people just disregard it, the law is brought into disrepute, and there is a problem generally, quite apart from the local area. A number of factors are therefore taken into account.

In addition, the actual nature of the road and the immediate physical circumstances are examined when a speed limit is determined. There is, therefore, a local input as well as national criteria. That makes the process more flexible than some people may imagine. However, again I accept—the philosophy is apparent in the White Paper—that local authorities should have the maximum say in their local transport policies and plans, and speed limits are an important part of that. They are very often the matters about which small communities feel strongly. They feel that the speed limit question is one on which they can make their opinion felt. Indeed, it is one of the few remaining matters on which small parish councils feel they can have a say.

Therefore, we have an obligation to consult carefully. We are looking into whether we can increase the say of local authorities in deciding the level of speed limits in their areas while at the same time maintaining the obvious requirement that we must not have an eruption of different speed limits or different conceptions of speed limits in different areas, because then the ordinary motorist might well become more rapidly confused than he is at the moment and standards of safety and of driving might deteriorate.

Mr. Newton

Will the Minister tell me whether the Ministry is looking at the question of rumble strips which are used in Norfolk, I gather, and could be a contributory answer to these problems?

Mr. Horam

Rumble strips can he very effective. There is a scheme in North London at the moment, and the bumps in the roads are lowering speeds con- siderably in a particularly congested area. There is one in Kensington which for some reason is almost totally ineffective. There is quite a lot of investigation into it at the moment and we regard it as a very promising way of checking traffic flow. We should certainly consider it if there were a case for it in any particular area.

The hon. Member for Saffron Walden put forward the general argument that the Government must consider the relationship between local authority spending on roads and Government spending on roads. I think he was hinting at the fact that we had cut down on expenditure, and that we must be aware that there was a relationship between Government schemes and local authority schemes, which local authorities may regard as more important in some instances than the Government schemes, and that we must kep a close eye on the relationship between the two.

The biggest cut recently—last December—was in Government schemes, to the extent of £50 million, and in the most recent exercise we have taken the biggest burden ourselves, leaving local authorities relatively unscathed. The conjunction between local authority and Government schemes is something that we are constantly talking about with the local authorities, and we are aware of its importance, because it very often seems wrong in the eyes of local authorities that some national schemes should be going ahead when related local schemes are slowed down. We clearly have to keep an eye on that.

In one or two particular cases I shall write to hon. Members concerning the points they have raised, as soon as I have had the opportunity of a good holiday.