HC Deb 13 May 1985 vol 79 cc3-5
2. Mr. Gregory

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what effect the lane rental experiments being carried out by his Department are having on the time taken by contractors to complete major maintenance projects.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Nicholas Ridley)

Last year's four lane rental experiments were a marked success. The actual time on site was cut on average by a quarter compared with conventional contracts. This much reduced traffic disruption. Given this, I have decided to use lane rental for a further 12 schemes this year.

Mr. Gregory

In view of the scheme's obvious success, will my right hon. Friend apply it to junction 8 on the M1, so that the same conditions apply?

Mr. Ridley

Yes, Sir. We have decided to invite tenders for junction 8 on the basis of a lane rental scheme with very heavy penalties for being late and very great rewards for being early. But even at this late stage I am looking at ways and means of improving the situation at junction 8, if possible.

3. Mr. David Marshall

asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether he has recently discussed road maintenance requirements with the local authority associations.

Mrs. Chalker

My right hon. Friend and I often meet leaders of the local authority associations. Also through the standing committee on highway maintenance and the local transport expenditure group there are regular contacts at official level on maintenance issues.

Mr. Marshall

Will the Minister confirm that although local authorities have spent more on road maintenance than planned for in public expenditure White Papers for several years, road conditions continue to decline? There is ample and clear evidence that the Government are not providing enough rate suport grant for local road maintenance. What steps does she propose to take to remedy the situation?

Mrs. Chalker

It is true that many local authorities have spent more on road maintenance than was envisaged. It is a question not of the amount of money that the Government make available through rate support grant, but of the way in which some of those local authorities have become accustomed to spending it. I am very concerned about the state of many of our roads. I realise that there is an unacceptable backlog and I am doing all that I can, through the Department, to ensure that something is done about it. I have no control over local authorities which do not spend rate support grant on the most necessary items, such as the maintenance of local roads.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

Is my hon. Friend aware that a significant proportion of the growing number of cycle accidents is caused by poor road conditions? Will she, in her discussions, bear in mind the needs of cyclists?

Mrs. Chalker

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that is why, when we ask for policies and programmes, and hold discussions with local authorities—and I go round the country every year doing that — we specifically ask for those very minor measures which can sometimes make all the difference between a safe and an unsafe ride.

Mr. Meadowcroft

Have not the local authority associations expressed concern about the equalisation of services across the metropolitan counties after their possible abolition? Is the Minister satisfied that there will be adequate power then to enable proper road maintenance to be carried out in the poorer parts of the metropolitan counties?

Mrs. Chalker

As I believe the hon. Gentleman knows, the way in which maintenance is carried out, often by the metropolitan districts within the metropolitan counties, varies widely. I am satisfied that when the resources are paid direct to the metropolitan districts they will carry out much of that basic road maintenance, which is essential for safe riding, more speedily and probably better. My officials are currently engaged in seeing just what needs to be done in different metropolitan districts. Those districts vary, but on the whole they are extremely competent and do the work well.

Mr. Higgins

Has my hon. Friend noticed that maintenance in London includes painting white lines in the middle of a road when perpetual double parking on either side of a road makes it impossible for cars to go anywhere except in the middle?

Mrs. Chalker

My right hon. Friend and I are at one in hating unnecessary lines and the failure to observe parking restrictions. We are concerned about that, and parking restriction problems are being taken up with the London boroughs, the GLC and the metropolitan police.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Since the metropolitan counties act in every instance as co-ordinating and planning authorities, how does the Minister expect them to function as efficiently if those powers are taken from them? How does she imagine that the standard of road maintenance can be kept up when every little area is responsible for its own section?

Mrs. Chalker

A number of metropolitan districts with populations of about 250,000 will much resent the hon. Lady referring to them as "every little area". In those areas the reviewing of necessary road maintenance is already often done by the metropolitan districts. They might be under the auspices and sometimes subjected to the double administration of the metropolitan counties in deciding what is done and when, but they are able to do the job. I see no reason why, if the money is paid direct to them, they cannot continue to do a good job.