HC Deb 23 December 1981 vol 15 cc977-80
7. Mr. Nicholas Winterton

asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether, following his statement of 1 December on lorries, people and the environment, he will take a new initiative in conjunction with local authorities to widen the system of designated routes for heavy vehicles.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

We intend to issue further advice to local authorities so as to help them to make the most effective use of their powers to restrict heavy lorries to suitable routes.

Mr. Winterton

Does my hon. and learned Friend accept that representing as I do a rural and urban constituency where many people are troubled by heavy lorries at existing weights, let alone those that the Government and the House have sanctioned, I feel that it would enable people who are deeply concerned about the environment—farmers, as well as ordinary rural residents—to find these vehicles more acceptable if there were designated routes for heavy commercal vehicles? Heavy vehicles are using country lanes and roads that were not designed and constructed for the weights that they are carrying already, let alone the 40-tonne weight. Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that this whole matter would be far more acceptable to people if he improved and speeded up the designation of heavy vehicle routes?

Mr. Clarke


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Before the Minister replies, may I ask for shorter supplementary questions?

Mr. Clarke

The Government accept that the present arrangements are unsatisfactory and that lorries are travelling on unsuitable roads and causing a nuisance. That is why we brought forward our proposal that there should be fewer, quieter and safer lorries. We propose to issue advice to local authorities on how they can use existing powers under the "Dykes" Act to designate more suitable lorry routes.

Mr. Snape

Before the Under-Secretary introduces any more long-overdue legislation, will he ensure that existing legislation is enforced, especially by county councils? The hon. and learned Gentleman has just referred to the "Dykes" Act. Will he draw the attention of the West Midlands county council to that legislation, which is almost a decade old, as that council refuses to implement it, to the considerable annoyance of my constituents in West Bromwich, who face considerable environmental pollution from heavy vehicles?

Mr. Clarke

We wish local authorities to make more use of their powers under the "Dykes" Act, but we have to accept that they know their areas better than we do. There are difficulties in designating routes. It is no good just moving lorries from one person's front door to some one else's. There is also a need to get on with the roads programme to provide the proper routes for the lorries to use. It is a pity that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) spends so much of his time opposing the construction or improvement of roads such as the M40, ban which could provide exactly what we require—a proper lorry route avoiding a large number of villages and town all the way through the Midlands.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Mr. Dykes.

Hon. Members


Mr. Dykes

My hon. and learned Friend has been kind enough to refer to the 1973 Act. Will he give more positive encouragement to the use of the Act's powers? Looking at it from a standpoint different from that of my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), will he welcome more schemes, such as the Windsor cordon?

Mr. Clarke

The short answer is "Yes". I congratulate my hon. Friend eight years later on having introduced the legislation in 1973. We wish that more progress could be made in its use. The Windsor cordon is probably the biggest example of what could be done. There was nearly another big lorry ban in North London. Unfortunately, the present GLC postponed it pending its large-scale inquiry into the future of the lorry in London.

Mr. Christopher Price

May I invite the Minister, after Christmas, to travel round the south circular in my constituency—

Mr. Dobson

On the Secretary of State for Employment's bike!

Mr. Price

—so that he can see for himself that some of the routes used by heavy lorries are quite unsuitable? The honest citizens of Lewisham, who want to go about their business, face appalling difficulties and pollution and cannot even cross the road.

Mr. Clarke

I know and have been round the south circular road. It is an experience that I keep to the minimum and, if I can avoid it, I shall not drive round it in the new year. Seriously, I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. There are several areas in south London where the presence of heavy lorries merely exacerbates unsatisfactory road conditions and is offensive to local residents. We need a combination of discreet road improvements and programmes and we must designate proper lorry routes. In addition, we must decide what we can do to reduce the numbers of lorries and make them safer and quieter to improve existing conditions. The Government are dissatisfied with existing conditions and are trying to find a way to make progress.

Mr. Higgins

What form will the advice take? Will it include advice on restricting the hours during which lorries can operate on certain routes, not least on the south circular? The south circular is, of course, a myth.

Mr. Clarke

As we are still considering and drawing up the advice, I cannot give a precise answer. The best thing would be to give an indication of the range of powers available and the critieria that local authorities should apply when designating and enforcing lorry routes. I agree that the south circular is a myth. However, the Government are responsible only for the north circular. Welcome improvements are being made to that road so that heavy traffic can be taken out of the suburban back-streets of north London.

Mr. Cryer

Why does the Under-Secretary always emphasise that British Rail must meet profit criteria on its routes when no such criteria are applied to the road network? The Minister has never said that the M1 or the M62 must make a profit. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that lorries do not meet their road costs and that the best way to reduce lorry traffic is not to make more motorways, but to shift traffic from the roads to the railways, thereby stopping the anti-rail bias towards freight transport that his Department seems to exhibit?

Mr. Clarke


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. May we please have shorter supplementary questions? Otherwise, we shall get ourselves into trouble.

Mr. Clarke

We subject road schemes to the most rigorous economic analysis. Unless there are overwhelming environmental reasons for proceeding with an uneconomic scheme, we proceed only with those that will show a worthwhile economic return. There should be no conflict between rail and road. It is ludicrous that road enthusiasts should attack the railways and that railway enthusiasts should attack the roads. The networks serve different types of traffic and both contribute to the country's economic well-being.

Mr. Emery

As regards designated routes, when will my hon. and learned Friend be able to make an announcement about new bypasses? Small towns that are inadequately equipped to take designated routes—such as Axminster, where the main road is only 16½ ft wide—may then not need to put up with heavy traffic and heavy articulated lorries trundling through them.

Mr. Clarke

My hon. Friend recently gave me an opportunity to see conditions in Axminister and stressed the town's need for a bypass. On Monday we announced this year's grant for local authorities. In that grant we concentrated on providing funds for bypasses. Fifty new schemes, costing over £1 million each, including 35 definite bypass schemes, were financed by the Government last Monday. After Christmas we shall produce a White Paper setting out the trunk road programme for the coming years. We hope to make worthwhile progress on bypass schemes. Axminister's problems are very much in our minds.

Mr. Robert Hughes

How is the Scottish response to the White Paper being collected and collated? Yesterday it was announced that we shall get £109 million of our money back from the EEC for the roads programme. What share of that money will go to Scotland and to the North, instead of being concentrated in the South, as Treasury leaks imply?

Mr. Clarke

The Department is not responsible for roads in Scotland. They are the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. The arrangements that the Prime Minister negotiated for the refund of Britain's contribution have enabled large sums to be put into the trunk road programme. The money has enabled us to maintain a level of trunk road building that would otherwise have been impossible. Therefore, the EEC refund has contributed to our ability to build bypasses and to take lorries away from people's homes.

Mr. Hughes

I am well aware that the Secretary of State for Scotland is responsible for Scotland's roads, but I am asking the Minister how he is co-operating with the Secretary of State to discover the Scottish response to the White Paper "Lorries, People and the Environment."

Mr. Clarke

The consultations on the White Paper on the Armitage report are nationwide, and the Scottish Office will be involved in considering the representations received from Scotland. The Government as a whole will consider all representations on the proposals in the course of the next two or three months.