§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Chope.]8.35 pm
§ Mr. James Cran (Beverley)
I am glad to be able to comment on the Government's bypass programme, which affects almost every constituency, including my own and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend), who unfortunately cannot be here.
I do not wish to attack the Government's record, since there is no reason to do so. Having checked, I find that their record is good. For instance, transport supplementary grant for 1991–92 is £318 million, a 17 per cent. increase on the previous year. Today, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Transport announced a further 15 bypasses at a cost of £85 million. Therefore, I start from the premise that the Government understand why the construction of as many bypasses as possible is beneficial. Clearly, it reduces accidents. I note from an unpublished study by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory that rural bypasses result in up to a 32 per cent. reduction in accidents. They are therefore clearly desirable.
My village of Tickton in east Yorkshire is lucky enough to have a bypass, which brings me to another advantage of bypasses. That is simply that they separate me and my neighbours from all the heavy traffic which previously went through the centre of my village. Last, but by no means least, there is a gain to the environment. Less congestion means lower carbon dioxide emissions. I am predisposed to the view that the Government understand all that. Organisations such as the British Road Federation have told me that the Government should accelerate the programme. No hon. Member would disagree.
I note that my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington has now been able to come to the House motivated no doubt by the importance of the subject. My constituency has moreover benefited from the Government's programme. Recently, the Humber bridge northern approach road was completed. It is not exactly a bypass, but it acts as one and alleviates traffic problems in all the villages in the Haltemprice area. Skidby is not in my constituency, but the recent bypass benefits my constituents, as does the southern bypass for Beverley.
As my hon. Friend the Minister understands, demand for bypasses is never ending. That is why Humberside county council proposes three major schemes for Government support in its transport policies programme for 1991–92. It proposed the Peakes Parkway scheme in Grimsby, the Leven-Brandesburton bypass, which is partly in my constituency and partly in that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend), and the Great Union street improvement scheme in Hull. They are all very worthy schemes, and I am sure that—in the fulness of time—they will receive the approval that is being sought from the Government.
However, I shall deal specifically with the LevenBrandesburton bypass because it illustrates well why the Government have a road improvement programme at all. I quote from the consultative document of Humberside county council, which states exactly how the council feels about the need for a bypass in the area. It states: 735The A165 forms part of the primary route network within the County and it carries exceptional peak traffic in the holiday season.A considerable amount of heavy vehicular traffic also goes through Leven and Brandesburton because the manufacture of mobile buildings for industrial use is carried out in that part of east Yorkshire. The caravans are wide, and all or nearly all of them have to be transported through those two villages.
Humberside county council's consultative document continues:The present route … is characterised by sharp bends, narrow carriageways, a large number of accesses, poor visibility and little safe overtaking opportunity. The road passes through Leven where there are substandard width footways for pedestrian access … there are parts of the road where forward visibility is very restricted and … crossing the road can be hazardous.It is perfectly clear that Humberside county council is wholly convinced of the need for the bypass as it could not have used stronger language in its advocacy of this project. Indeed, the council's 1991–92 transport policy programme stated:The A165 has a high accident record and by bypassing the villages the scheme should show major accident savings.That is very strong language.
It would be usual for an hon. Member now to plead with the Minister for funding for that project. Anyone listening to the debate might think that the Government had not already given approval or finance, but that is not so. The Minister for Roads and Traffic has been very patient—he met me, County Councillor Arthur Pollard and Borough Councillor Mrs. Pat Ablett and gave us a considerable amount of his time. He examined many photographs which show how difficult—almost impossible —it is for traffic to get through the two villages and on the basis of that and, I am sure, of independent assessment, he concluded that the bypass should be approved and given finance—and that is precisely what the Government did on 17 December last year.
It is entirely understandable that the inhabitants of both villages were delighted because it is no secret that they have been waiting for a bypass for many years. Industry, in the form of Lada cars, for instance, which take transporters through the village, and Transline, which transports the mobile buildings through them, were also utterly delighted because they do not want to pollute the villages or cause the difficulties that have undoubtedly existed until now.
That begs the question, why raise the issue at all? Notwithstanding the fact that the Government have given approval and finance for, I think, half the project, the county council—in this case, Humberside—has decided to cancel the bypass. I should perhaps use the word "cancel" carefully, because, after considerable public pressure, there are signs that the council might be rethinking its position on the subject.
The Minister and other hon. Members might be interested to know that what particularly irritated people was the manner in which the decision was taken which left much to be desired. The decision was not taken formally in the transportation committee or ratified by the full council although that may eventually occur. It was merely announced in a fairly brutal fashion by the chairman of the transportation committee and by the leader of the council. That is despite the fact that those gentlemen and the 736 council proposed the bypass in the first place and, indeed, highlighted the fact that they were to proceed with it in the community charge bills that we all subsequently received.
Therefore, I am not here to ask the Minister to defend that action because it is not his responsibility—
§ Mr. John Townend (Bridlington)
Was political pique not the original reason for cancelling the bypass because the socialist leader of the county council objected to a very good speech made by my hon. Friend criticising the profligate spending of the council? I wonder if my hon. Friend agrees that it is no wonder that people in our part of the country have revolted against Humberside and demanded its abolition? We are very pleased about the result of the Boundary Commission report, which was published last week.
§ Mr. Cran
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. With the unerring timing that he shows in the House, he has anticipated my remarks. We all find it difficult to understand why the county council took such a decision, because usually county councils complain that the Government have not given them the money to proceed with a proposal. That is not the case in this instance because the Government have done so.
To satisfy my hon. Friend, I may merely quote from the Hull Daily Mail of 21 June this year. That paper and, indeed, all the newspapers in that region of East Yorkshire have done a superb job in articulating the outrage felt by many people about an arbitrary and, as my hon. Friend said, clearly political decision. What did the leader of the county council say? One assumes that these are his words as I am quoting from a letter to the editor. He said:the Hull Daily Mail has come out in total support of an early start on the Leven bypass which will cost almost £10 million … Critics who suggest that the county council is being vindictive"—it is, of course, quite clear that it is—over the Leven bypass fail to appreciate the difficulties we face … Our problem could be eased substantially with the support of Mr Cran. If he were to join us in pressing the Government to recognise the difficulties we face—and reflect them in our SSA this December",the Leven bypass could go ahead. As that comes from the horse's mouth, so to speak, I would appreciate it if the Minister would address that particular point.
It is clear to all of us who have examined the decision that it was a political one. I suspect that no one will be surprised at the great disappointment in the villages of Leven and Brandesburton, where people are astonished and indeed feel that they have been treated unjustly. They are trying to rectify the position by speaking to the council and trying to get the council to change its mind. Neither my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington nor I have sought to dissuade them from that course. If they succeed, we shall all be delighted, but I suspect that that will not occur.
Who therefore protects the villagers of Leven and Brandesburton? It will come as no surprise to my hon. Friends and to Opposition Members that those people look to the Government, as I fear that everyone does, and to the House to make a judgment about the natural justice —or in this case injustice—of what has happened. They look to the Minister to provide some help, although that may prove difficult as the Minister has already promised half the cost of the scheme. They also look to the Minister to answer a number of questions, if he can.
737 My constituents and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington want to know about the Government's attitude to the high-handed, cavalier and undoubtedly political decision. My constituents also want to know whether, in the Government's view, the county council's decision is legally based. Moneys have been committed in the current budget and, I am led to believe, those moneys are being spent. The whole exercise was advertised through the community charge bills to the whole community in the Humberside county council area and everyone there expects the bypass to go ahead.
My constituents look to the Minister to inquire into the arbitrary and highly irregular decision by the county council. Will my hon. Friend tell us how long the grant approval that he has given will last? Not unnaturally, my constituents are trying to convince the county council to change the decision. They would be wasting their time if the grant approval did not last for any length of time.
There should be no politics on this issue. The county council has conceded that it is a matter of safety. Anyone who considers the question of bypasses knows perfectly well that they are highly desirable. The Government are doing their best to provide bypasses at the speed at which they should, and I am satisfied that they are doing that. Against that background, can my hon. Friend the Minister suggest to my constituents what they can do to get a bypass in Leven and Brandesburton?
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
I know better than to try to intrude in the affairs of Humberside. However, I thank the hon. Member for Beverley (Mr. Cran), whose good fortune it is that this debate on an important subject of principle has come on rather earlier than he could have expected, for giving me a minute or two. He may have problems with the Humber bridge, but I have problems as the Member of Parliament representing the south side of the eldest of the three sisters of the Forth bridge. I wish to engage the Minister's attention on that subject. I have talked to the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), who has direct responsibility for the matter at the Scottish Office. I assuage him with the observation that anything that I propose will be greatly to the personal convenience of the Secretary of State for Transport, who is my Parliamentary neighbour and who would benefit greatly from my proposals.
My first concern is the Barnton roundabout. As is the case with roundabouts in a number of cities, it gets choked, and to such an extent that on summer mornings, six days a week, the traffic tails back as far as the Forth bridge. It is one of Europe's biggest choke points. With all the talk about building a second Forth bridge, I ask those with access to Treasury strings whether it would not be better to help Lothian regional council at least to try at Barnton the kind of flyover which, I am told by James Provan, the recent Conservative Member of the European Parliament for North-East Scotland, has been tried with great success in Antwerp. Various European cities have met the problem and in a relatively short time have erected a series of flyovers which at least alleviate the problem even if they do not completely solve it.
If the alternative is a second bridge across the Forth, 1, as a person with considerable local knowledge, warn that it would be very much more difficult to build the third Forth bridge than it was to build the second—if the rail 738 bridge is the first—because the geology of crossing the Forth is, I am told, far more difficult at any possible site. The best site was taken by the bridge built in the 1960s.
The hon. Member for Beverley referred to carbon dioxide emissions. The gross bottleneck causes problems such as carbon dioxide, a waste of petrol, a waste of busy people's time, frayed nerves and hassle. It all mounts up to an environmental horror. None the less, one must ask to what extent part of the trouble is caused by the existence of tolls, which slow down the flow of traffic. I have never understood what the difference is between exacting money from the motoring public for going over water and not exacting money from them when they go over lengths of motorway which are almost as expensive and difficult to construct. I cannot see that there is a qualitative difference in what we are asking people to do.
Ten years ago—I do not see that it is different now—it was twelve and a half times more expensive to extract money in the form of tolls than from the collection of the standard rate of income tax. It is an extraordinarily inefficient way in which to raise revenue. The problem has become acute because tolls add to delays. I put a marker in the Minister's mind. Will the Department of Transport, along with the Scottish Office, consider the whole question of the Forth bridge? Will they talk properly to Lothian region to see whether the problem can be solved?
The second area that desperately needs a bypass is Newbridge. When I mentioned to the hon. Member for Eastwood what I was going to say tonight, he volunteered the information that it often took him rather longer to go from Newbridge, which is on the city outskirts, into the centre of Edinburgh than it did to go from his own city of Glasgow—indeed, from the other side of it because England is on the far side of Glasgow from Edinburgh —to the Edinburgh city boundary. That is how bad things have become. There should be discussions between Lothian region, the Scottish Office and the Department of Transport about what could be done in terms of a flyover.
I suppose that we must all register our personal convenience and not our personal interests. However, as I live in my constituency, I must travel here every Monday on the 7 am shuttle or the 7.10 am British Midland flight, or leave my journey until much later in the morning. It is not possible to travel from the west of the city without reckoning on a 30-minute or 45-minute delay, to catch the 8 am, 9 am or 10 am flight to London. The personal convenience of hon. Members or others is not the dominant factor. I just refer to that as an example of how acute the position has become in relation to Newbridge.
It would be remiss of me not to refer to the dreadful accident on the Al on the other side of the city that was reported on our television screens. Children were killed in that accident at 2.30 am as they travelled down from Alness. The accident occurred in one of those fogs that occur in the area. That stretch of road is very dangerous.
After every dreadful accident, I suppose people automatically say that something must be done about a road, but the issue is overtaken by other things and people forget about it. People also say that it is not the road that is at fault, but the driver. However, that stretch of road is particularly dangerous. I echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson), who appeared on television and said that he and the local authorities asked for something to be done about that road. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Beverley for allowing me to participate in the debate.
§ Sir John Farr (Harborough)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley (Mr. Cran) on his far-sightedness in choosing a subject that is important for Opposition and Conservative Members. I congratulate my hon. Friend on what he told the House about the problems concerning his constituency.
A short while ago, I was penning a letter to Mr. Speaker in the hope that I might be selected for an Adjournment debate on bypasses. I thought that I would take this opportunity to try to kill two birds very briefly with one stone and refer to the problems in my constituency which have been building up for some time.
I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic for being kind enough to send me not one, but two letters today. The first refers to road safety on the A47 at Skeffington. Skeffington has been the subject of a bypass programme and I am glad to learn today that the road improvement on the busy A47 east from the city of Leicester is to be transferred from the regional to the national roads programme. I was also delighted to learn that the scheme forms part of an £85 million national package of bypasses for local schemes that have just been announced.
My hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic was kind enough to send me a copy of the press release and a note about the fact that Market Harborough in my constituency is one of the towns selected for the bypass demonstration project.
Like everyone else, I have every confidence in the generosity, kindness and good judgment of my hon. Friend the Minister. I am sure that the selection of Market Harborough's bypass, which is now being built—the A6 bypass north and south—is something for which we will all be grateful. However, it is not too clear what the selection involves.
In his letter today, my hon. Friend the Minister says that Market Harborough has been nominated for the much sought after demonstration project by the Market Harborough local authority. However, some of the enclosures to which he refers are difficult for the layman to understand. The press release refers to a traffic calming programme. What is that? I am extremely foolish not to know what such a programme involves, but that is part of the official announcement that, I am delighted to say, has been made today. I should be more than grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister could explain briefly what such a programme involves.
I was going to write to Mr. Speaker to seek an Adjournment debate about a bypass for a project that has plagued my constituency for 30 years. The issue is not unrelated to the M1-Al link road, of which most hon. Members will be aware. Of course, all local authorities in Northamptonshire and Leicestershire are full supporters of the M1-Al link road, which is nearing completion. However, so great is the east-west traffic on the A427, which presently runs parallel to the link road, and so much is congestion increasing because the gap in the M1-A1 link road has not yet been filled, that some villages on the A427 in Leicestershire, nearly all of which are in Harborough constituency, are becoming very choked and in a dangerous state. For instance, in the village of Theddingworth, from which a deputation came to see me 740 the other day at my constituency interview session, there have been no fewer than 16 accidents on the A427 in the past half year.
My hon. Friend the Minister cannot know everything —although he knows an awful lot—but his officials will tell him that this matter has nothing to do with him; it is not a Department road, it is a county council road. The purpose of my Adjournment debate would have been to point out that I cannot remain silent any longer without a request for the taking over of many of the important trunk roads which are not adopted by the Department. I cannot remain silent any longer in face of the transparent need for that taking over to take place at an early date. My hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) said that he supported the abolition of the north Humberside authority because of culpable misconduct.
I, too, hope that the review that is now taking place will lead to a careful reconsideration of the position of the Leicestershire county council, certainly in respect of transportation, which needs to be removed from it altogether. I can see no reason at all why the role of the effective and efficient district and borough councils in Leicestershire cannot be expanded and Leicestershire county council completely abolished.
I do not say that lightly. The reason why I say it is that, 22 years ago, Leicestershire county council promised a by-pass of Theddingworth. The route was approved by the county council, and £1 million or so was allotted. Work was due to commence, and then, lo and behold, the then Minister for Transport said, "We are going to build a wonderful MI-Al link road in Northamptonshire, just south of the A427." As soon as that announcement was made, all work on the Theddingworth bypass ceased and traffic was allowed to go through it. That was 22 years ago.
It has been pointed out to Leicestershire county council that there is a danger to life and limb on the A427. The situation is so intolerable that it should not be allowed to continue. It has now come up with another date, 1991, to build the Theddingworth bypass, but the latest announcement is that it cannot be at all sure of that date.
Quite frankly, I am fed up with the county council on this matter. It has behaved disgracefully. If ever there was a case for a unitary authority in respect of road traffic management matters and the recommendation of a bypass programme, it is the craven role of Leicestershire county council over Theddingworth and its population for the past 25 years. I am delighted that the Minister is kind enough to be present, and I hope that he will act on a matter of concern for all my constituents.
§ 9.9 pm
§ Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South)
I, too, should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley (Mr. Cran) on raising an issue that is important to many of us. I feel honoured to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr). When I first became a Member of the House—a long time ago—as one of 158 new Members, my hon. Friend was exceptionally kind not only to me but to my secretary, who was also new to the House, and neither she nor I have ever forgotten it. My hon. Friend is very much loved by both of us and by many other colleagues. I am delighted to see him in his place.
Unlike many other parts of the country, my constituency of Derbyshire, South is now very busy, partly 741 because we have the largest building site in Europe—the Toyota factory, which is now being built right opposite my house. I am pleased to see it—there is no NIMBY in my area. The result is that unemployment in the area is below 5 per cent. and two-car households are now common in South Derbyshire. Indeed, if recent canvassing is anything to go by, families with three, four or more cars are increasingly common in south Derbyshire.
We are a rural area, with more than 50 villages, and our traffic problems have rapidly become acute. The problem is driving many of my constituents absolutely scatty. Most of the roads in the area are country lanes and we would be in some difficulties even without the growth in traffic that the increased economic activity has generated. The problem in many villages would be much worse if it were not for the weight restrictions on some of their roads. However, they mean that the traffic must go somewhere else—it cannot just disappear—and it tends to go through the slightly larger villages, where traffic restrictions are not in place.
The fact that the problem is substantially a local one —we do not blame anybody else for it—is shown by the recent speeding problem in the village of Repton. The Repton people complained bitterly to the police about the speeding and the police naturally responded by setting up a speed trap for a couple of days. Nearly 400 people were found to be exceeding the 30-mile an hour speed limit as they drove through the village; 90-odd of them received a ticket and the rest were cautioned. About 75 per cent. of those found to be speeding turned out to live in the village or its immediate vicinity. As one can imagine, that produced some rather red faces, but it proved that traffic in the area is considerable and that the roads are not coping with it.
A couple of years ago, I took a delegation to meet my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), the predecessor of my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope) at the Department of Transport. We were most grateful to the Department and to my hon. Friend for the interest, concern and consideration that was shown to south Derbyshire. My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham said, in a slightly puzzled way, that we were the first delegation that he had seen for some time to ask for road building rather than insisting that a road should be built somewhere else. We actually wanted a road built in South Derbyshire—and the quicker the better.
The result has been gratifying. One bypass is already under construction—for the substantial village of Etwall —and there are more to come. We are expecting bypasses for the villages of Hatton, Hilton and Foston. A public inquiry was held last autumn and a decision is expected this autumn. That bypass is part of a road connection system that is due to run from Stoke to Derby and then across to the M1—the M6 to M1 link, which will bring considerable relief to the M6 north of Birmingham and also provide a link to the Toyota factory.
The line for that development was dealt with at the same public inquiry last year that considered the bypasses for Hatton, Hilton and Foston. The total cost of the M6-M1 link will be £150 million or more. The link will entail constructing a new bridge across the River Trent, which will be a substantial undertaking. We do not underestimate the amount of effort, time, skill and construction and planning expertise that will be involved. I should like to put our gratitude for that on the record.
742 None of this was possible under the previous Administration. The developments were talked about for the first time more than 20 years ago. In 1976, the line of the new route was drawn, but it was one of the casualties of the previous Government's efforts at spending money that they did not have. As a result, in 1976, that line was left on the piece of paper and no further progress was made. On the other hand, we are now very pleased with the progress that has been made.
I should like to ask my hon. Friend the Minister a number of questions. I recognise that he might not be able to respond to them tonight, but I hope that he will be kind enough to write to me about them. First, as I hope that I have hinted in my brief contribution, the new road is a matter of considerable urgency to my constituents. It is becoming increasingly difficult to explain to constituents why the road does not yet exist, why the traffic is still going through the villages and why, in villages such as Willington, there is a snarl-up every morning and every night extending right through into the dual carriageways.
We now have much more dangerous and lethal roads than we used to have. A series of my young constituents have been killed on roads in places where there should he bypasses. I find it as distressing as the local police and funeral directors do when we are obliged to try to explain to the families why there are no new roads yet, and why the bypasses have not been built.
I ask my hon. Friend the Minister whether we can speed up the decision-making as soon as possible and ensure that the programme for the link road between Stoke and Derby and the M1 does not slip in any way. It is becoming increasingly important that we hold to all the timetables.
On present estimates, the Toyota factory will produce 100,000 cars a year, but that figure is expected to increase to 200,000 by 1995–96. All the industry estimates show that by the end of the century the factory will produce 400,000 cars a year. Although I hope that many of those cars will be sent by rail, if we can get British Rail to co-operate —that is another fairly dodgy question—those estimates nevertheless imply an enormous amount of supplies coming in, and many staff coming in and out. On current estimates, the number of staff movements in and out of the factory by 1995–96 is likely to be about 6,000 a day. If the estimates are accurate—and I think that they are—we have to take on board the fact that the Toyota factory will generate an enormous amount of traffic on the roads.
I hope that the Minister will assure us that the present programme will not slip, and that the Department of Transport will accord the matter the same urgency as we do.
The second problem about which I want to ask my hon. Friend concerns connections to the new road. When new roads are built, especially the good quality dual carriageways for which we hope, land on either side of them becomes valuable. There are now a number of proposals on the books for developing sites that are otherwise of no special value. For example, there is an old airfield at Church Broughton, a Ministry of Defence depot at Hilton and one or two other such sites, which have suddenly become valuable and useful. They are close to the Toyota site; they would be connected directly by road and in one or two cases they might be connected by rail, too.
The difficulty is that the Department of Transport insists on two conditions. First, it insists that, if there is to be a connection to the new road, the whole works, the complete operation, must be there right from the start even 743 though it may be several years before the site will come into use. Department officials appear to be insisting that on one site the whole connection for a development covering 200-odd acres must be in place before the first acre is let. I understand their arguments, but the trouble is that that course of action is extremely expensive.
The second problem that the officials present is that they insist that the developer pays the lot. With a £4 million or £5 million connection for a site whose total infrastructure costs may be of the same order, that can make the whole development financially unviable. I should like to see more realistic attitudes, so that connections for sites could be developed partially on a stepped, staged basis. That would be helpful. The present all-or-nothing arrangements are unrealistic and unfair.
Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister could enlighten me on the other matter that concerns me, as no hon. Members from any of the other parties are here. I am concerned about the comments on the road-building programme made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott). I have written to the hon. Gentleman about what he said but have had no reply. I understand that, speaking at a construction industry conference in Edinburgh in April, in a speech that was well reported in the construction industry press, the hon. Gentleman said that if the Opposition were elected, the first thing that they would do would be to slap a moratorium on all road building.
I can understand that one might want to review the road-building programme, but I am most alarmed at any proposal to introduce a moratorium. In my letter I asked the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East whether his moratorium would apply to my road in South Derbyshire, but I have had no reply. My hon. Friend the Member for Beverley (Mr. Cran) may be worried about the attitude of our hon. Friend the Minister to his new road, but he would have a heck of a lot more to worry about if the Opposition were in charge.
§ Mrs. Currie
I heard most of what my hon. Friend said. I put it to him again that financial approval is one thing but that, until the pennies are actually spent and the work done, the road is not built. If the Opposition got in, and if a moratorium were called immediately, the odds are that the bypass would go the same way as my road went in 1976: it would not get built. I hope that my hon. Friend will draw the problem to the attention of his constituents, especially those who think it would not matter much if they voted Labour next time. It would matter a great deal. That is a matter of considerable concern. Perhaps the Minister will check out the speech made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East in April, which was well reported in the construction press, and say whether there is anything that we can do about it.
§ Sir John Farr
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her kind remarks, and I was interested to hear what she said about the Opposition. Can she tell us which Opposition 744 party she had in mind? Is she aware of the Liberal Democrats' views—or do they not have any views about road building?
§ Mrs. Currie
That is an interesting proposition. I share my hon. Friend's consternation at the apparent position of the Labour party. The remarks were certainly made in public, and the speech was handed out to the press. I am also somewhat alarmed because, for the first time in recent history, a Labour spokesman, talking about what the Labour party might do if it won power, was prepared to say that it would stop spending money. Most of the time, Labour spokesmen say that they will increase spending, and so far, the total bill amounts to about £40 billion. As for the Liberal Democrats, they will as usual try to determine on which side of the fence the grass is greener and jump over it at that point. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will check out the Liberal Democrats' policies and let the rest of us know.
We in south Derbyshire are very pleased at developments over the bypasses, which are urgently needed. I live in a very pretty, rural area. It is no longer quite as tranquil as it used to be. It is a busy area. My constituents are working. They drive to work, and in pursuit of their leisure activities, with their families. I am pleased about that, but there is a cost in terms of increased congestion and danger on our roads. I am convinced that the bypass programme that is under way will be of major assistance. Will my hon. Friend the Minister consider the points that I have made, both about urgency and about the necessity of creating decent business connections with the new road, and perhaps be kind enough to write to me?
§ Mr. John Townend (Bridlington)
1 am pleased to have the opportunity, because we have some spare time tonight, to support my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley (Mr. Cran) on the question of the Leven-Brandsburton bypass. We should put on record the enormous amount of excellent work that my hon. Friend has done on that bypass. I am sure that all his constituents are very grateful to him for it. When the leader of the county council made that political decision, he may have thought that he would undermine my hon. Friend's position in his constituency, in fact, he did the exact opposite. I am sure that my hon. Friend did not need any additional support, but no doubt he will get significant additional support as a result.
As my hon. Friend said, the road will principally bypass a large village in his constituency, but it will end just outside a village in my constituency, and my constituency is interested for a number of reasons. First, as my hon. Friend said, there is a large industrial estate in Brandsburton which generates a considerable amount of traffic. Transline is a leading manufacturer of portable buildings. Its portable offices and homes have to be carried on large transporters, which go through Leven. At times, one wonders how they get through the main street when there is a large lorry coming the other way.
The bypass is also on the A1056 which is the main tourist artery from the west riding, Beverley and Hull into Bridlington. The tourist trade is very important to Bridlington. In the summer that road carries an enormous amount of traffic. I am afraid to say that it is a dangerous road. We have an awful lot of accidents on it, some of which have, regrettably, resulted in fatalities.
745 The road also has a major junction with the main road to Hornsea—again in my constituency. Hornsea is another seaside town which is dependent on the tourist trade. At Catwick, which is two miles down the road, there is another Sunday market. At the weekends the traffic is horrendous. There can be tailbacks, for several miles at this dangerous and congested place.
It was a great shock to the people of Leven, who have been waiting for the bypass for so many years, when the project was cancelled. Government approval had been granted and the Government had agreed to put up 50 per cent. of the money. The project was in the county council's budget. It was cancelled by the socialist leader of the council out of pique, because he objected to the criticisms of the council made by my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley.
If the Leader of the council had bothered to read my speeches he would have realised that I have been making the same criticisms as my hon. Friend for the past three or four years. Before I was privileged to be elected to this place I was the leader of the county council when the Conservatives were in control. During those years we never increased the rates by more than the rate of inflation. Since the Conservatives lost control, there has never been a year in which the rates have not increased by significantly more than the rate of inflation. Indeed, the community charge is excessive to the extent of about £90 per person.
The cancellation of the project was a bit much from Councillor Geraghty, because he has presided over one of the most profligate councils in the country. It wastes money which could well go towards the bypass on items such as fax machines for councillors, and a county council newspaper which is a propaganda publication for the Labour party.
The council has made enormous losses on an ice rink in Hull, which should never be run by the county council. It should be run by an efficient company in the leisure service. The council tried to prevent the school cleaning contract from being put out to private tender. The direct labour organisation put in a low bid and lost a fortune on the tender. Its bid was drawn up on the basis that it needed far fewer staff than were employed by the county council, but it then refused to make those staff redundant. That cost the county council about £1 million.
It is ridiculous for Councillor Geraghty to say that my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and I have it in our hands to allow the bypass to be started by putting pressure on my hon. Friend the Minister to increase the standard spending assessment. The money was already in the council's budget.
This should not be a political matter. It is a matter of the environment, safety, people's lives and children's lives. The road is a death trap. It bisects my hon. Friend's village. The traffic is so bad that for many days in the year it is not a village but two villages. One hears many a time criticism from the Opposition Benches that we are putting money before people and before lives. This is a case in which the socialist county council is putting politics before people and the safety of men, women and children.
§ Mr. Cran
My hon. Friend remarked that the county council is spending about £90 per person over the figure that it should spend. Does he agree that if the county council undertook a proper review of its expenditure across its activities, both he and I would have no difficulty? In this case the county council has not done that. It has not 746 conducted itself in the proper business fashion. It has chosen one capital item to achieve such savings as it would like. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is not the way to run a business?
§ Mr. Townend
I agree 100 per cent. The fallaciousness of the leader of the county council's position and, given his reason for not going ahead with the bypass, his dishonesty, have been revealed in the past two weeks when the county council decided to go ahead with a relief road for an industrial estate in south Humberside. If the county council did not have the money for the Leven bypass, which was provided for in the budget and for which the council has Government money, how can it go ahead with the other relief road?
One of the problems that I have heard about on the grapevine—there was also a clip in the local paper about it—is that the county council committees are grossly overspending this year's budget. That is terrible; no wonder there has been so much rejoicing in Humberside that that official region will come to an end. The people of South Humberside will join Lincolnshire, according to the recommendations of the Boundary Commission and they will get the benefit of the efficient and carefully run Lincolnshire county council, which has a Tory majority. I am afraid that some of the rejoicing is premature, however, because under the present recommendations we on the north bank will still be under the iron heel of Councillor Geraghty. He has already said that he does not intend to take any notice of the Boundary Commission and that he will not change the name of Humberside back to East Yorkshire, which we all want.
§ Mrs. Currie
Does my hon. Friend agree that some of the darter left-wing councils are busy talking themselves out of existence? Derby city council, which covers part of my constituency and is Tory-controlled, has said that it wants to be a unitary authority and shot of the county council. South Derbyshire district council, which covers the other part of my constituency and which is Labour-controlled, has also said that it wants to be a unitary authority and shot of the council. The local Labour party has expressed its belief that the county council should be abolished—the Conservatives certainly believe that it should be. The only people in favour of retaining the silly idiots on the county council are the silly idiots themselves.
§ Mr. Townend
I find that extremely interesting, as we have a similar state of affairs in our part of the world.
We have quite a sensible Labour leader in the city of Hull, Councillor Doyle, lie has taken a pragmatic approach to the abolition of the national dock labour scheme and he has encouraged private investment. Councillor Doyle and the Labour majority on Hull council —this is what happened with the district council in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie)—want to do away with Councillor Geraghty and the idiots on the county council who are an embarrassment to the Labour party.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister is listening carefully, as this issue is part of his Department's responsibilities. Now that we are to get rid of Humberside, we want to scrap all the district and county councils. We want two new unitary authorities in North Humberside.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
Order. I realise that the hon. Gentleman has been provoked to some extent, but we are talking about bypasses.
§ Mr. Townend
With respect, if we get the right form of local government, we will make sure that we get our bypass.
We would like a unitary authority in Hull—I have to admit that it would be Labour controlled for time evermore—and we would like another unitary authority based in Beverley covering the area of the old Holderness and East Yorkshire district councils. It would be the new East Yorkshire unitary authority. Our people would have East Yorkshire back and an efficient, Conservative-controlled council.
If my hon. Friend has any leverage that he can use on the county council to make it get on with the bypass, I beg him to use it. If he does so he will be the hero of all the residents of Leven and Brandesburton.
§ Mr. Cecil Franks (Barrow and Furness)
There are few areas of Government involvement at a local level which stir the indigenous population to greater emotion than the perceived or real need for a bypass—such emotions being exceeded only by those aroused when the proposed route is published, when a new set of emotions come into play as part of the not-in-my-backyard syndrome.
Listening to the previous speakers, I was tempted to think—as you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, obviously thought—that we were about to have a debate on the errors of local government. I could throw myself wholeheartedly into that subject, and I fully appreciate the feelings that have been expressed on the various local issues.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley (Mr. Cran) for giving us the opportunity to debate the Government's bypass programme. I must qualify my initial remarks by making the obvious point that, although bypasses generate an enormous amount of discussion locally and on the Conservative Benches, it is incredible that only one solitary Member is present to represent the Opposition. He arrived halfway through the debate, but I am delighted to see him and give him full marks for staying. It is incredible that not even an Opposition Whip is here to record what is going on in a programme which involves not hundreds of millions but billions of pounds. My hon. Friend the Minister told me earlier that it will provide enough work to keep the Department busy for 20 years or more. That is a measure of the size of the programme.
I shall not come to the rescue of my hon. Friend the Minister because I am sure that he needs no rescuing but, whereas other hon. Members have been projecting the plights within their constituencies, I wish to say a few kind words to my hon. Friend about what is happening in my constituency.
A unique distinction can be drawn between the constituencies of all the other hon. Members who have spoken and my constituency. Every constituency—whether Beverley, South Derbyshire, Harborough, Linlithgow or Bridlington—has a multiplicity of choices of roads going in and out. Trunk roads go north or south into Bridlington, but in the constituency of Barrow and Furness, which is one hour's drive away from the nearest motorway, the M6, only one trunk road goes in and only one goes out, and it is the same one because we have the 748 sea on three sides. Therefore, the question of a bypass in my constituency, along the route of the A590 meandering its way to the M6, is of prime importance.
The old Dalton-in-Furness urban district council made its first plea for a bypass in 1937. After decades, it looked as though the bypass would finally be built in the mid-1970s. I remind hon. Members that Barrow is one of the three major industrial bases of the north-west—Manchester, Liverpool and Barrow. The shipyards and the engineering complex in Barrow form the largest heavy engineering complex in western Europe. That gives an idea of the volume of heavy traffic that goes up and down the solitary road from the M6 to Barrow. At one point along the A590, in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling), the road literally goes through a farmyard.
At one stage, in the mid-1970s, the Dalton-in-Furness bypass was about to be built. Then, lo and behold, we had a Labour Government and a financial crises. The International Monetary Fund was called in, and out through the window went all the bypasses that had been in the programme for years. Once again Barrow was back where it started and Dalton-in-Furness was back where it started.
I was elected in 1983, so I am one of the class of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) and I too remember the kindness of my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr). One thing that struck me as obvious when I was elected was that the only way to broaden the economic base was by improved communications. There is no other way to encourage small businesses and industry to locate themselves in a region unless two prime criteria are met. The first is a good local work force, who are reliable and available, and the second is mobility, which good communications bring.
I made it one of my top priorities to try to get the Dalton-in-Furness bypass proposal moving once again. There have been a succession of Ministers. My right hon. Friend the present Minister for Overseas Development came to visit Dalton-in-Furness in 1984. For the benefit of the local and national media, we arranged a photocall in Dalton. Such is the way of the world that, at 3 pm that Friday when all the press and photographers were present, there was not a lorry to be seen for the next 10 minutes. As soon as a lorry came, the photograph was taken and we all left. There was then a half-mile traffic jam at 3.30 pm as the shipyards closed and all hell broke loose. No traffic could move in either direction.
In 1986, my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) came to see the proposed bypass and made all the necessary promises. Once again, we arranged for a photograph—this time at 11 am, rather than 3 pm. That visit was followed by one from my hon. Friend the present Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities, who arrived by train. The chairman of my association and I met him at the railway station just outside Kendal. The chairman and I were astonished that the train was on time. The Minister was not astonished; he was delighted and told me how impressed he was. He was none too pleased when I said that it helped when the train driver knew that a Minister of State from the Department of Transport was on board.
We drove through the farmyard at High Newton, along the A590, at Ulverston and Dalton and eventually arrived at Barrow. Like all his predecessors, the Minister was 749 convinced of the need for a bypass. I hope that, in the fulness of time, in November, the present occupant of the relevant ministerial post will pay his respects to the town.
I compliment the Minister, who in June announced that the invitation to tender for the road would be made in August and the construction would start in November. We have had the line of route and the public inquiry and we are now at the stage when building can commence. To pick up the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South, I am also extremely apprehensive at the comments of the hon. Member for Kingston-uponHall, East (Mr. Prescott). If for no other reason than the Dalton bypass, the general election should be postponed until after November. I have checked with the hon. Gentleman and received no answer except the reaffirmation that if there is an election and a Labour Government came to power, there will be an immediate moratorium on bypasses. I cannot for the life of me understand the logic of that.
Bypasses do not happen overnight, but take years and years. First, a bypass must be in a programme, then a line of route is published, then there is a public inquiry—because there are inevitably objections—eventually the inspector makes his recommendations, the Minister makes an announcement on the preferred line of route and then the invitations to tender are put out. That process does not happen overnight. I do not want to see happen in my constituency or in any other Member's constituency—irrespective of party—what happened in my constituency and so many other hon. Members' constituencies in 1976.
§ Mr. John Townend
Why does my hon. Friend think that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) made that statement? Was it an indication that the Labour party is anti-car and anti-car-owner?
§ Mr. Franks
Labour has a kind of love-hate relationship with the public. It is producer-oriented rather than consumer-oriented, and it is in thrall to the unions. The motorist does not have a union, unless it be the Automobile Association and he is not a member of a group representing his interests which contributes money to Labour party funds. Therefore, that party is much minded to abolish private transport and to encourage everyone to use public transport instead. There is a place in any sensible society for both.
The number of motorists is growing simply because people want independence and to be able to travel to whichever destination they choose—in their own time, at their own pace, and at their own convenience. They would prefer to do that rather than to wait for trains that never arrive—or which do arrive, but two hours late.
I compliment my hon. Friend the Minister and thank him, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough for including the Dalton-in-Furness bypass as one of his Department's demonstration projects. Dalton-in-Furness and the borough of Barrow will greatly welcome it. When my hon. Friend winds up, perhaps he will elaborate on the funding that is available for the schemes that project teams recommend. I understand that they operate on a 50–50 partnership basis with the local authority. Will my hon. Friend confirm that such funds are available, and say whether they are available to a local authority to match funds from the Department of Transport?
I repeat my thanks to my hon. Friend the Minister. My constituents are extremely grateful that construction is 750 about to commence on the bypass for which they have waited for 54 years. I hope that the 55th year will see its opening. I hope also that my hon. Friend the Minister will follow his illustrious predecessors and come to see the little town of Dalton and cut the first sod of the bypass.
§ Sir Anthony Durant (Reading, West)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley (Mr. Cran) on his Adjournment debate. It has ranged around the country and to the north of England, and I will speak for the south.
Reading's problem is that an important river—the River Thames—runs through the centre of the town, which presents a major traffic problem. Reading badly needs a third bridge because, despite its two existing bridges, it suffers major traffic congestion. Reading has to reach agreement with Berkshire and Oxfordshire on a line for the bridge, and that process has been under way ever since I first entered the House 17 years ago. My problems with that bridge—like those of my hon. Friends—go on and on.
We have at last succeeded in making some progress, with the A329M extension, which runs off the M4 into Reading. The Speyhawk construction company has built a tunnel under the Great Western railway into the estate, which runs right alongside the river. The problem of going over or under the railway has in that way been solved, with a route close to the river bank.
We have a developer who is prepared to pay for the construction of a bridge. Not many people are prepared to do such a thing. The bridge would cross the river right at the end of the A329M extension, but the problem is that its other end would be in Oxfordshire—and Oxfordshire does not want it. It has decided that the Oxfordshire county is a rural county, and should remain so. The county is terrified that any further encroachment by a bridge, road, or anything else will bring fresh development.
Eventually, the Department will have to arbitrate in the battle between Oxfordshire and Berkshire, or there will never be agreement about the location of the bridge. A developer is prepared to build the bridge and there are roads going to it and on the other side. The proposal is for the east of Reading but there have been proposals for a bridge on the west. There will be no agreement between the councils until the Government say that the traffic situation is so bad that a line will have to be decided. After that, there will be public inquiries and so on, and the bridge might be built.
The little village of Sonning has a bridge that was built hundreds of years ago and traffic rumbles through the village day and night on a single lane with traffic lights. If the bridge were built, it would relieve that village of enormous pressure. I ask the Government to see if there is some way in which they can intervene. My hon. Friend the Member for Beverley (Mr. Cran) spoke about having meetings with Ministers and seeing photographs. I have had meetings and many promises, but I have never seen photographs or had any news from the meetings. The Department should consider a third bridge to relieve Reading's heavy traffic.
§ Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley (Mr. Cran) on initiating a debate on such an interesting and 751 useful subject. I listened with interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks), because I know well the road that he mentioned. My hon. Friend has done an excellent job of lobbying for improvements which I am sure will benefit his constituents. The engineering centre of Vickers is one of the largest such complexes in Europe; I am sure that the industrial benefits of the road will be great and that it will also improve the daily lives of my hon. Friend's constituents.
The debate is an opportunity for me to remind the Minister of the need for a northern relief road in my constituency. His predecessors have been acquainted with that need. His immediate predecessor recently visited Bolton, was presented with a petition, and was able to see the line of the road and the great need for it. The predecessor of that Minister met a delegation from Bolton, when Councillor John Walsh and I came to see him to press upon him the need for the road.
The proposed road has a long history, going back to 1947 when Turton council prepared plans for the line of this northern relief road, which was much needed even then. Turton's successor, Bolton council, surveyed the route, and the Conservative-controlled council acquired the necessary land, cleared houses and was ready to build the bypass. Unfortunately, in 1980, control of the council passed to Labour, and at that time Greater Manchester council, which was also Labour-controlled and was ultimately responsible for the building of the road, turned down the plans. Later, when the Labour-controlled Bolton council acquired authority for roads from the GMC, it again turned down the plan.
There is stalemate. The land has been acquired for the road, but the council will not construct it. I do not know why it should adopt that attitude, because the need is greater now than when the road was first planned in 1947. Millions of transport supplementary grant are being spent on junction improvements on the Crompton way bypass which crosses the line of the two roads which need relief —the A666 Blackburn road and the Tonge Moor road. I hope that those improvements will alleviate congestion, but they are not the solution that people want.
The relief road is very much needed because of the effect on the quality of life in Blackburn road and Tonge Moor road, where there is very heavy traffic. It is like a wall of steel dividing the communities. In crossing that road, I know that one dices with death. Children have been run down, and adults injured, if not killed. A French articulated lorry ran over one of my constituents who was in his car, but he was unable to obtain any compensation. A great deal of suffering has resulted from the decision not to build the northern relief road.
I hope that my hon. Friend will visit my constituency, as his predecessor did, and see the line of the road. We could walk along it together. To go through the valley where the road is planned would make a very pleasant walk. I could show my hon. Friend how much the relief road would improve the quality of life for my constituents. It would also reduce congestion, which costs so much money. The chamber of commerce is in favour of the northern relief road. Constituents have complained about how long it takes them to get to hospital and also about how long it takes doctors and emergency services to get through, due to the congestion on the roads.
752 The relief road has been needed for a very long time. The Labour council is more interested in the Labour areas of the town than in what they look upon as the northern Conservative dormitories. The relief road would improve the quality of life of people in the inner part of the city as well as the quality of life of those who live in the outer parts, who so much need the new road. I hope that my hon. Friend will find an opportunity to visit my constituency and see the line of the new road for himself. I hope that he will also encourage the council to put in bids for the necessary grants, which I trust would be available, so that the council could build this very much needed road.
§ The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Christopher Chope)
I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley (Mr. Cran) on securing, at a very civilised hour, this timely debate, and for his excellent speech initiating a spirited discussion. My hon. Friend referred to what those who heard him will think of as an almost incredible story of perverse and vindictive behaviour by the Humberside county council—motivated, I understand, by the political pique of some of the socialist county councillors. What is going on in Humberside will probably be known to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott). I hope that, in due course, he will comment upon this saga and reply to the criticisms that have been made during the debate of the socialist programme for roads.
When my hon. Friend came to see me last autumn to discuss the case for the Leven and Brandesburton bypass, he brought with him, as he said in his speech, some photographs, together with some of the people who are directly affected. That evidence, coupled with other evidence, was very impressive. My hon. Friend referred to the evidence produced by Humberside county council in support of the bypass scheme and to the improvements to the environment that would result from it. My hon. Friend said that it would lead to major accident savings—a precise quote from the case put by the Humberside county council.
It is therefore extraordinary that the county council should now be at the threshold–perhaps it has already gone beyond it—of saying that it does not intend to pursue the scheme any further. As a result of the debate, I hope that the county council will have been shamed into including the Leven and Brandesburton bypass once again in its programme. It has the money for it; all it needs is the political will to implement it. If I may expand on why the county council has the money, when the scheme was accepted—in competition with many other schemes throughout the country—for transport supplementary grant in the current year, the Government said that they would be able to pay 50 per cent. in transport supplementary grant, and that the other 50 per cent. would effectively be provided by the national taxpayer, at no expense to the local charge payer. That is an important point.
Humberside county councillors are suggesting that going ahead with the bypass would impose an additional burden on Humberside charge payers. I assure the House that that is not so. In effect, the bypass would be 100 per cent. funded by taxpayers, because of the detailed way in 753 which we apply resources—half in the form of transport supplementary grant and half in the form of annual capital guideline cover. The extra annual—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Chope.]
§ Mr. Chope
Annual capital guideline cover means that a council gets extra credit approval, which increases the authority's standard spending assessment above what it would otherwise be. That results in the authority getting more revenue support grant to cover the interest on and repayment of the capital. Anyone who suggested to my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley that the cost of the bypass would increase the burden on Humberside charge payers was totally wrong.
§ Mrs. Currie
We are all sitting here with our ears flapping. Do my hon. Friend's comments apply to other bypasses, or do these extraordinary circumstances apply only to Beverley?
§ Mr. Chope
This principle applies to all the schemes that are included when we make our announcement on TSG. This year, that included an addition of 17 per cent. in the sums being made available. This is not the only time that a socialist local authority has tried to misinterpret the rules and to imply that, because it has different political priorities, it will take its feelings out on part of the area and deprive it of a bypass which would otherwise be available.
My hon. Friends the Members for Beverley and for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) asked what could be done and whether it was too late for Humberside to change its attitude. Because the council said that it no longer wanted to proceed with the bypass, they wanted to know if the money would not be available and if it could not be restored.
If Humberside county council quickly relents, the scheme can be brought back into the programme. The money is available this year, and it will continue to be available unless the county council tells the Department of Transport that it no longer wishes to proceed with the scheme. If the council no longer wishes to proceed or if it is slow in doing so, a process called "denaming" takes place, whereby the resources that were available for that scheme become available for another scheme. I hope that Humberside county councillors will not be so petty as to deprive their citizens of the benefit of the public expenditure which, because of the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley, is directed towards this much-needed bypass.
Many other subjects were covered in the debate. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) drew attention to the addition of Skeffington to the road programme, which my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State announced today, and to the inclusion of the A6 Market Harborough bypass in the demonstration project—one of six schemes in that project.
My hon. Friends the Members for Harborough and for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks) asked for more detail on the bypass demonstration project. Reference was first made to it last year in the environment White Paper as a means of maximising the environmental benefit flowing from the large bypass programme which the Government brought about. The essence of the project is to introduce traffic calming and to conduct a study of circumstances 754 before and after work to ascertain the best way of ensuring that maximum benefits, in terms of quality of life and the environment, go to the people who use the town or village that is bypassed.
I can understand that hon. Members who do not follow the modern jargon used by roads traffic engineers would not be familiar with the expression "traffic calming". It means the introduction of road humps, road narrowing, additional pedestrian crossings and engineering measures designed to reduce the speed of traffic, to enhance safety of pedestrians and cyclists and to discourage fast through traffic from using that area.
We invited tenders for the by-pass demonstration project from all local authorities and we received many bids. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Transport announced the six winners today. The towns that are to be bypassed have in common the need to maximise the benefits of the bypass once it is complete, and I am sure that that will be facilitated with the assistance of local authorities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness asked exactly how much money would be available, and he referred to 50 per cent. being the norm. We have not yet decided the precise amount. It will depend on one scheme being compared with another, and no individual scheme will receive a specified amount of help from the Government. We hope that we shall receive support from the Civic Trust. Most of the central funding will go towards the cost of analysing the potential benefits of the project, and the local authorities that have agreed to participate have agreed to provide some of the funds for the engineering measures, but let us not forget that the principal cost of any bypass is borne by the national taxpayer through the national roads programme.
§ Mr. Franks
On the Minister's comments on traffic calming, a most unusual phrase about which some of us are now a little wiser, are there procedures in legislation whereby the Government can prohibit lorries from using the old road when a bypass has been constructed, or is that a matter for local authorities rather than the Government to determine?
§ Mr. Franks
I was talking about the period after the bypass has been built specifically to take heavy traffic away from the town. Can the purpose of the bypass be enhanced or enforced by the prohibition of heavy traffic along the old road?
§ Mr. Chope
Yes, the answer to that question is also affirmative. When the bypass is complete, traffic regulation orders can be made to prohibit vehicles of a particular weight or size from using that road unless they need to do so to gain access to a premises along it. That will force them to use the bypass that has been provided.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough raised the important issue of the gap between the A1 and the Theddingworth bypass in Leicestershire, on which, he says, Leicestershire county council has neglected to act for about 25 years. I am afraid that I can do little more than 755 offer sympathy, because it is a local road scheme and not one for which the Department is responsible. I hope that my hon. Friend will be successful in persuading the county council of the need to include it in its programme. He says that there is a possibility of its starting in 1992, so perhaps that is a sign of his success in bringing pressure to bear on the issue over the years. I wish him well on that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) referred to the importance of bypass construction in her constituency and sought an assurance that the Stoke-Derby link road programme would not slip. It is always difficult, especially for a Transport Minister, to guarantee that a road programme will not slip. However, I accept my hon. Friend's pressure about the fact that she does not wish that programme to slip, and I will write to her with more details about that and other issues that she raised.
One of the most interesting parts of the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South was the reference to the Opposition parties' policies—or lack of them—in relation to road building. She referred to the speech made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East in Edinburgh in April. She said that she had written to him as a result of it, asking what the implications might be for road investment in her constituency. I have also written to the hon. Gentleman and I have yet to receive a reply. I am sure that it is not because he has overlooked the matter and that a reply will come in due course. I asked him which of the 53 new schemes that the Government are introducing into their national road programme this year he would wish to stop. I hope that we shall receive a reply in due course.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South also referred, in an exchange with my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough, to Liberal Democrat policy on road investment. I confirm to the House that it very much depends on which audience is being addressed. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) when speaking to a rally of cyclists in London, as I heard him the other day, suggested that no more money needed to be spent on national roads other than perhaps to deal with some of the potholes. He said that the Liberal Democrates were not in favour of expanding the roads programme and, indeed, would be in favour of reducing it.
However, the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) has lobbied persistently and successfully for a widening of the bypass round Ilminster so that it can become a dual carriageway. I hope that I shall not get too much criticism from my hon. Friend when I tell the House that the Government announced today that the right hon. Gentleman's pleas for his own constituents had been acceded to and that the Ilminster bypass dualling is now included in the roads programme. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will now adopt a slightly different attitude on whether he wishes the roads programme to be expanded or contracted. We wait to find out.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness also referred to the attitude of the Labour party on these issues. The views of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East largely depend on which audience he is addressing. If he is addressing a group of railwaymen, he argues that all the investment needs to be put into the railways. If he is addressing a group of lorry drivers, he 756 says how important it is that there should be continued investment in the roads because lorry drivers have an important job. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness for exploiting the inconsistencies in the policies of Opposition parties.
§ Mr. Dalyell
My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) doubtless has many shortcomings, as do we all, but in my experience one thing that he does not do is tell audiences what they want to hear.
§ Mr. Chope
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the most effective defence that could be brought in the circumstances. We shall now follow the speeches of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East with even greater interest to see whether the comments of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) are borne out in practice.
My hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Sir A. Durant) referred, in a typically persuasive contribution, to the problem of the third river crossing which almost everyone in Reading wishes to see, but which nobody in Oxfordshire seems to wish to see. He asked the Department of Transport to arbitrate in the matter. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has visited one place nearby and that he has received representations on the issue, as I have. There is certainly the will to resolve the problem. However, we have not yet found a way to do that because the powers of the Department of Transport are not that extensive. We will continue to explore all possibilities because the traffic problems of Reading will not be resolved until that issue is properly and successfully addressed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) kindly invited me to visit his constituency. I should be happy to do that at some stage in the future, perhaps when the road problems to which he referred have been resolved to the extent that I can turn the first sod. I look forward to visiting Barrow-in-Furness in November to carry out such a duty with my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness.
I waited till the end before referring to the hon. Member for Linlithgow, because I knew that he would be patient, as always. He referred to the need for additional road infrastructure investment in Scotland for roads and road junctions that he uses, although I am not sure whether they are in his constituency. He said that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), was dealing with his representations because he is the Minister responsible for roads in Scotland. I cannot go into the details, but I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will consider the points that have been raised in this debate.
§ Mr. Dalyell
This is a grey area. All I ask is that, the next time the Secretary of State for Transport is locked in a traffic jam between his home in his constituency and Edinburgh airport and is desperate to get to a Cabinet sub-committee meeting, he at least thinks of my contribution today and wonders what can be done to alleviate the problem. Seriously, I ask the Minister to bring the matter to the attention of the Secretary of State for Transport, who knows from first-hand experience exactly what the problem is. Someone will have to do something about it.
§ Mr. Chope
I will certainly do that, in the knowledge that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Transport supports the principle that we need further investment in road infrastructure.
I was sorry to hear from the hon. Member for Linlithgow about the terrible accident on the A1. I do not know whether further investment in the road would have prevented the acccident. However, sadly, almost all the people who were killed in the accident were unseated in the back of the van. That is a matter of considerable concern, and the Department of Transport is considering the implications of the accident. If someone is seated and belted in a vehicle, that person is more likely to survive an accident.
The Government are committed to continuing investment in the roads programme and in the bypass programme in particular. We have made substantial investment over the past 10 or 12 years in national and local bypasses. Today has been a particularly good clay for those of us who believe in such investment. We have added 758 15 new bypasses to the national programme at a cost of £85 million, and we have announced the first six towns for the bypass demonstration project.
We have heard the case for even more investment in roads. By investing in roads, we can improve the environment and road safety and make a valuable contribution to improving the economy. That is why the Conservative party, alone among political parties, continues unashamedly to claim that we must continue to invest as much as we can afford in road infrastructure—not at the expense of investing in other forms of transportation, but as a complement to such investment. Only through long-term capital investment in transport can we improve our quality of life.
It is not too late for Humberside county council to change its attitude. If there is no other consequence of this debate, I hope that the county council and its leader will be shamed into restoring that much-needed Leven bypass scheme so that work can start on it this year.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at nineteen minutes past Ten o'clock.