HC Deb 01 March 1978 vol 945 cc442-4
8. Mr. Buchanan

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he is yet able to indicate which major trunk road schemes he will not now proceed with in the light of the recommendations of the Leitch Committee.

Mr. William Rodgers

No, but I shall report on the progress of the review in my forthcoming roads White Paper.

Mr. Buchanan

Will my right hon. Friend indicate whether his Department will carry out the sensitivity tests suggested by the Leitch Report in order to determine what effect the new traffic forecasts will have on typical road schemes? Will he give a further assurance that traffic forecasts will not be revised in an upward direction in any cost-benefit analysis because of the uncertainty which exists about the future growth of traffic in this country?

Mr. Rodgers

My hon. Friend is quite right to draw attention to the uncertainty and to the extent to which the Leitch Committee has said that this should be taken account of in making our decision. We shall certainly take account of that. It is difficult to forecast the precise movement in the growth of traffic, and I would not want to try now. We shall do that and ensure that our decisions receive the sensitive attention that my hon. Friend has in mind.

Mr. Fry

Before the Secretary of State either abandons any projects or downgrades them, will he confirm two facts—first, that according to the statistics the safest roads on which to travel are, overwhelmingly, motorways and, secondly, that although the road building programme has been savagely cut over recent years the figures show that the Government have underspent over the last two years by more than £200 million on their own budget?

Mr. Rodgers

As the hon. Gentleman says, it certainly is the case that the safest roads are motorways. It is also the case that there has been some underspending—which is characteristic of the construction programme as a whole—for reasons that we all know. All these factors will be taken into account. But it must be the case that there is a strong need for a new approach to road building which takes account of all the considerations set out in the Leitch Report.

13. Mr. Raphael Tuck

asked the Secretary of State for Transport how long he expects the revision of the trunk roads programme that he proposes to make in view of the findings and recommendations of the Leitch Report, to take.

Mr. William Rodgers

I shall announce progress in the forthcoming roads White Paper.

Mr. Tuck

Does my right hon. Friend realise that much of this trunk road programme will result in great waste? Is he still determined to go ahead with the M40 between Oxford and Birmingham, in view of the fact that British Rail has extra capacity for 6 million passengers and 6 million tons of freight on that route alone? Is this not a prime example of the urgent need to transfer transport from road to rail?

Mr. Rodgers

My hon. Friend makes a number of separate but related points. He will recall the decision on the form of road between Oxford and Birmingham, which was announced recently. We are very anxious to see that more freight is carried by rail, and my hon. Friend must agree that the road programme is substantially smaller than it was. However, there is still a substantial need for new roads for a number of good reasons.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Is the Secretary of State aware that one new road that is needed urgently is the three miles or 4.8 kilometres through my part of Eltham?

Mr. Rodgers

I know that that is the hon. Member's view. He has expressed it on many occasions. I accept it.

Mr. Spearing

In answer to Question No. 8 my right hon. Friend used the word "sensitive" in relation to future decisions, subsequent to the Leitch Report. Will he tell the House whether he will consider roads where permission has been given for construction but this has not already started, and where construction would not have been authorised had the Leitch criteria been used? Will he say in his forthcoming White Paper why the Government wish to go ahead with these schemes, if that is their view?

Mr. Rodgers

Although we shall look at every decision sensitively, that does not mean that the roads will not be built. I cannot say that I shall please all my hon. Friends, or, indeed, anyone, when the review is completed. We are applying the Leitch criteria to roads in the existing pool, and we are making what I hope are sensible decisions in the light of those criteria and in the best interests of everyone concerned, taking account of all the conflicting factors.