HC Deb 05 July 1978 vol 953 cc455-7
36. Mr. Dudley Smith

asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether, in view of the increasing number of major repairs needed for the United Kingdom's motorway network, he will put in hand an urgent review of the safety procedures adopted when such operations take place.

Mr. Horam

Because of the particular problems of carrying out road works on motorways, methods of operation are carefully and clearly laid down. We are satisfied that these provide the safest available means of carrying out this essential work, but the arrangements are kept under continuing review in the light of research and operating experience.

Mr. Smith

In view of the horrendous number of serious accidents—particularly on the M1 recently—where there have been major road works, does not the Minister think that there is still scope for improving the traffic contra-flow and that more ought to be done to reduce the speed of vehicles as they approach road works?

Mr. Horam

I entirely accept the hon. Gentleman's point. It is a difficult question of judgment. On the one hand, we want to cause the minimum of inconvenience to motorway users and, therefore, we have instituted these contra-flow measures, which allow two streams of traffic in each direction although one lane is wholly closed; on the other hand, I accept that these provisions should be carefully monitored, with a keen eye to safety considerations.

Mr. Greville Janner

Do not the latest figures show that a substantial number of serious motorway accidents occur where repairs are being carried out and that the public do not understand the dangers and need to be taught? What is my hon. Friend doing to emphasise to drivers the dangers that they are causing to themselves and others by the way in which they approach, and behave in. repair areas?

Mr. Horam

Undoubtedly accidents are more numerous when repairs are taking place to a section of road. What we are trying to do is to give the maximum information to motorists about the period over which the repair work will be carried out, the amount of road involved, and the speed at which they should go.

Mr. Emery

Will the Minister look at the instructions given to those carrying out repairs to ensure that the problem is kept to the minimum and that, where traffic diversions or lane closures have been indicated, the signs are taken down when, particularly at weekends, the work has stopped? In too many instances, the signs for closures are kept on when no one is working on the lane; traffic is bunching although the barricades could have been removed ages before.

Mr. Horam

The hon. Gentleman's observation is one that many people have made. As a consequence, my right hon. Friend and I instituted a special investigation to ensure that cones are taken down when it is possible to do so, when no work is taking place. I agree that nothing is more frustrating than the sight of a stretch of road coned off when no work is being done on it.

Mr. Loyden

What co-operation takes place between my hon. Friend's Department and, for instance, research divisions in the Department of Industry on the question of developing and producing safer and more durable road surfaces?

Mr. Horam

There is research into road surfaces, and there has been a major change in our practices. There was a thickening of the road surface in the early 1970s to take account of the forecast number of heavy lorries, for example. There is continuing research in these matters.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Is it the policy of those responsible for undertaking major road works on motorways that such road works should be undertaken at peak traffic periods during the year? Would it not be sensible to have the road repair works on motorways undertaken when the volume of traffic on motorways is at the minimum rather than the maximum?

Mr. Horam

Of course. I have personally gone into the schedules of motorway repairs, especially on the M5, M6 and M1 this summer, for example, to ensure that the minimum amount of repair work is undertaken during the peak holiday periods. I have in fact rescheduled repair work on the M5 because of the difficulties there during peak periods, and I have insisted that there shall be no repair work on the Midland motorway links during, for example, the period of the Motor Show.