HC Deb 28 March 1979 vol 965 cc435-7
3. Mr. Nicholas Winterton

asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether he will make a statement on road maintenance costs in view of the severe winter.

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

Not yet. It is too early to assess the extent of the damage.

Mr. Winterton

I thank the Under-Secretary of State for that reply, but will he accept that in recent years local authorities have cut back drastically on road maintenance because of public expenditure trimmings? Will he also accept that the Government have cut back on road maintenance? Is he aware that borough engineers believe that it will cost approximately £100 million to put right what has been neglected in the past and exacerbated by the very severe winter, during which the wet and the frost have lifted many of our roads and created dangerous conditions?

Mr. Horam

Only last Monday my right hon. Friend and I had the benefit of a full discussion with the Association of County Councils and the Association of Metropolitan Authorities on this very subject. The whole issue was very thoroughly aired and we gave them various undertakings about the future. In the financial year to come we are increasing by 3 per cent. local authority spending for road maintenance purposes.

Sir Timothy Kitson

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that many counties are still clearing snow? Will it be possible to give an assurance that they will be able to make claims for grant assistance after the end of April, which is the date provisionally set, as much of the work in repairing damage created by frost will not be done by then? Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore produce a more realistic date?

Mr. Cryer

Tell him to buy a British car.

Mr. Horam

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his safe arrival at the House. I hope that there are no problems arising from bad maintenance on the A1 which led to his difficulties.

The hon. Gentleman has hit on an important point, namely, the 30 April qualification date for the emergency procedures arising from the bad weather this year. My right hon. Friend and I undertook, at the meeting to which I have referred, to discuss this date—which I accept may cause problems—with the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Mr. Fry

Is the Minister aware that the state of many of our roads is the worst in living memory, and that that is not due just to the recent winter? It is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) said, the result of years of enforced neglect because of the Government's attitude to road maintenance, and I find it—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member must ask a question.

Mr. Fry

May I ask the Minister how he can reconcile his answer to my hon. Friend that he was in no position to estimate the amount of damage with apparently endorsing the idea that the county councils would not be recompensed after the middle of April? He is not leaving them much time either, is he?

Mr. Horam

I entirely disagree with the hon. Gentleman. As he well knows, the roads are not in the worst state in living memory. We have a very satisfactory road system. On the whole, it has been well maintained. We have, as he knows, working arrangements, which are accepted by the Association of County Councils, for monitoring exactly what happens to the roads. The first three years of these arrangements have shown that there has been no serious deterioration in the condition of the roads over the last two or three years. That is the position shown by the survey carried out by individual county councils up and down the country. We must go on the objective evidence.