HC Deb 20 April 1983 vol 41 cc279-80
11. Mr. Neubert

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what amount of traffic he estimates will be deterred by continuing toll charges from using the Dartford tunnel when the M25 orbital road is completed.

Mr. David Howell

Very little. The advantages of using the motorways are so great, while the alternative free crossings at Woolwich ferry and Blackwall tunnel would demand a long and costly detour through east London.

Mr. Neubert

Although the principle of users paying the cost would ordinarily be acceptable, as there is to be no charge for the rest of the M25 orbital motorway, is it not the sheerest expediency for the Government not to take greater responsibility for the Dartford tunnel when it becomes an integral and essential link in the circuit? Contrary to my right hon. Friend's optimism, will not the increasingly high toll charges necessary to recover the present crippling debt create a distortion of traffic patterns in the area and militate against the benefits that the motorway can bring, especially if the new east London river crossing is to be free?

Mr. Howell

The Government recognise the interdependence of the Dartford tunnel and the M25. That is why we are grant-aiding improvements to the approach roads and the toll collection plaza. My hon. Friend knows that the Dartford tunnel was built by Essex and Kent councils. It was never contemplated that the tunnel would require Government subsidy and the joint committee of Essex and Kent councils is confident of discharging the debt from toll revenue. The arrival of the M25 will greatly increase traffic flows and provide good business for the Dartford tunnel. I think that that is the right way forward, although I recognise what my hon. Friend says, that with the arrival of the M25 circumstances will be different from those that were foreseen when the Dartford tunnel was built.

Mr. Booth

Is the Secretary of State satisfied that the capacity of the existing Dartford tunnel will be capable of meeting traffic flows on the completed M25 to both the north and south of the tunnel? Has he considered a second tunnel, so that there can be one for northbound and one for the southbound traffic? If he has not, to what extent is the additional expenditure on the toll booth plaza justified, as opposed to making provision for an additional tunnel to improve the traffic flow and to reduce the chances of motorists travelling on other, less suitable, roads to avoid a tunnel bottleneck?

Mr. Howell

An additional tunel was installed in the 1970s. We must watch the position carefully, but our present projections of traffic show that the flows will be maintained. As the huge M25 orbital comes into place, we must think about future developments and the effect that they will have on traffic, but our present projections show that the Dartford tunnel, together with the additional tunnel built in the 1970s, can cope.