§ 2. Mr. Barry Field
To ask the Secretary of State for Transport how much is being allocated in transport supplementary grant to local authorities in 1990–91 for road improvement programmes.
§ The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Robert Atkins)
Government grants of £233 million have been made available to local councils this year—a 15 per cent. 3 increase on last year—further proof, if it were needed, of the Government's real commitment to improving local roads.
§ Mr. Field
I thank my hon. Friend for that excellent news. Has his Department had time to consider the report by Sir John Wolfe-Barry and Partners, dated 24 May 1924, on the construction of a bridge between east and west Cowes? I wonder whether my hon. Friend would like to earn 66 standing ovations on the Isle of Wight, one for every year since that report, as well as a free holiday on the Isle of Wight, for joining east and west and announcing that he will fund the river bridge over the Medina.
§ Mr. Atkins
My hon. Friend may have been around when the article was published, but I most certainly was not. None the less, his point is not lost on me or on my Department. The case for the Medina bridge is strong. As my hon. Friend will understand, I cannot commit myself at the moment to announcing whether transport supplementary grant can be made available, but this is obviously a good candidate. Clearly, were I able to provide that grant, a free holiday would be an attraction, but not the most persuasive one.
§ Mr. Fearn
Is the Minister aware that many bridges over disused railways are in a very bad state of repair? In the programme of moneys that he has in mind to allocate to the local authorities, are there any moneys for the repair of the bridges, as there is no doubt that they are in a dangerous state?
§ Mr. Atkins
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have made an adjustment this year to enable local authorities to ring-fence the resources that were previously available to them under the rate support grant and which are now available under our own grant, to enable them to repair their local bridges. The local authorities have told me that they require more money, and we are considering that at the moment, but the Department's programme of repair of its own bridges on trunk roads, motorways and so on, is progressing fast and satisfactorily.
§ Mr. Adley
Is my hon. Friend aware that those who have had to listen over the years to the endless arguments about the Winchester bypass recognised the dilemma in which the Secretary of State found himself, and that most people realised that he had no choice whatever but to reach the decision that he reached? The decision that the Secretary of State has taken to return the existing road to greenery will do a great deal to allay the understandable concern about the environment, and most reasonable people accept what the Government have decided to do.
§ Mr. Atkins
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are grateful for my hon. Friend's judgment, bearing in mind his known interests in matters that are not always road based. I think that it is fair to say that a number of us involved in making the decision resent strongly the suggestion that, because that difficult decision was faced and taken, those at the Department of the Environment and at the Department of Transport are somehow less aware of the environmental considerations that are so important to many of us. My hon. Friend knows the area well and his support for the road on behalf of his constituents is greatly appreciated.