HC Deb 25 November 1981 vol 13 cc880-2
16. Mr. Conlan

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what is the value of contracts entered into for new road construction during the second quarter of 1981; and how this compares with those of the first quarter.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

The value is £165 million, compared with £19 million in the first quarter.

Mr. Conlan

While the increase is extremely welcome, is this sudden boost to be followed by a decline in orders because the Minister is incapable of spreading the work load? Given that he has had a stable budget since 1978, is it not possible to spread the load so that the civil engineering contractors can plan their work more efficiently?

Mr. Clarke

Quarterly figures always surge in this way, and a comparison between two quarters is meaningless, and has been over the years. We are trying to produce each year our set road programme, and this year we shall be delivering the trunk road programme almost in full, with four road schemes being started early. There is a two-yearly surge in contract placing in the road building programme which results from the lasting effects of the previous Government's axing of the road programme when they made the IMF cuts and reduced real spending on roads by about half.

Mr. Higgins

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that many of these new road programmes result in traffic getting to London much more rapidly than it would otherwise do? Does not he also agree that, having arrived in London, where the responsibilities of my right hon. and hon. and learned Friends are taken over by the GLC, the whole process is then fouled up by bus lanes, many of which are completely unnecessary? Will he do something about that?

Mr. Clarke

When in London, motorists find that on the trunk roads, such as the North Circular, the end of the M11 where we are planning the Hackney-M11 link, or down towards the new east London river crossing, the Government are planning improvements. I am not responsible for the Greater London Council, and heaven only knows what it will do with its road programme in its present state. I share my right hon. Friend's scepticism about bus lanes. They are useful in some places, but in other places they pointlessly narrow urban roads. However, that is a decision for the local authorities concerned, and not for me.

Mr. Dobson

If the Minister is rightly concerned about the problems of construction teams in the road construction industry, why does not his right hon. Friend show similar concern about the possible disbanding of the electrical contracting team, which is the only team with the necessary expertise to carry out electrification of the railways?

Mr. Clarke

We are concerned. The Balfour Beatty team is not trained to build the St. Neots bypass. It is waiting for electrification. As my right hon. Friend said, the announcement last week by British Rail about the team was precipitate. It was not an announcement by the company. We are anxiously awaiting the electrification programme and for the programme schemes. British Rail promised that it would bring forward those schemes when we made our decision last June.

Mr. Michael Brown

Will my hon. and learned Friend tell the House when the Barnet B. Top to Grimsby motorway link will be completed? That was included in the programme to which he referred earlier. Is he aware that the project was deferred by the previous Government? I am delighted that this Government have decided to pursue it.

Mr. Clarke

The Labour Government put it off and we have started construction a year earlier than we planned. I think that it will take about two years to construct.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Can the Minister say what lorry weights are used in the design briefs for these new roads? When will we hear any further Government decisions on the recommendations of the Armitage committee?

Mr. Clarke

The design standards are those that are used for the sort of traffic that uses the roads at present, with a margin to spare. The Armitage committee did not propose any increases that would affect our design standards. My right hon. Friend is carefully considering the whole problem of the lorry, including the recommendations of the Armitage committee, and he hopes to make a statement shortly.

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