HC Deb 29 June 1992 vol 210 cc569-71
7. Mr. Peter Atkinson

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what steps he is taking to make roads more sympathetic to the landscape through which they pass.

8. Mr. Cyril D. Townsend

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what steps he is taking to make roads more sympathetic to the landscape through which they pass.

13. Mr. Moss

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what measures he is taking to ensure that the natural environment is protected when new roads are built and existing roads improved.

Mr. MacGregor

We always undertake a thorough environmental assessment and give great weight to sensitive design in the development of trunk roads. A great deal of time, care and money are devoted these days to designing schemes to fit into the existing landscape.

Mr. Atkinson

Will my right hon. Friend recognise the importance of balancing protection of the environment with the needs of an expanding economy? Does he agree that the increase in the number of cars and commercial vehicles on our roads—for example, on the A69 in my constituency—is a direct reflection of that increasing prosperity?

Mr. MacGregor

I very much agree with my hon. Friend. As most hon. Members know, much of the pressure for improved roads, new road schemes and, perhaps above all, bypasses comes from our constituents. That is why we have a massive road programme. He is right to say that increased prosperity has led to increased traffic. At the same time, it is important to ensure, as we do, that the environmental impact of our future major networks is as beneficial as possible.

Mr. Townsend

I recognise the Government's national success in this regard, but does not my right hon. Friend think, on consideration, that the east London river crossing would be more sympathetic to an 8,000-year-old wood and a site of special scientific interest if his two predecessors had agreed that it should be a cut-and-cover tunnel, as agreed by the inspector at the inquiry?

Mr. MacGregor

The crossing was the subject of many inquiries before decisions were taken. I know from having come to the matter afresh that everything has been considered and everything is being done to ensure the minimum environmental effect.

Mr. Moss

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that if the go-ahead is given for the east coast motorway a comprehensive environmental impact assessment will be undertaken to measure its impact on the unique drainage of the Fens area of my constituency? On the dualling of the A47, will he confirm, if not today then later, that his Department is investigating possible lines of routes both north and south of the River Neve in the vicinity of Wisbech?

Mr. MacGregor

The Government have no plans for an east coast motorway. As my hon. Friend will know, that plan was put forward by a consortium of local authorities and private contractors. If at any point—I make it clear that I do not envisage anything—such a scheme were proposed, it would be subject to the full environmental impact assessment that we require of all schemes. My hon. Friend will know that we plan to make a dual carriageway of the whole of the A47 from Peterborough to Great Yarmouth. I know how widely welcomed that is by all road users in Norfolk, my county. I am not aware of the scheme to which he referred, but if I may I shall look into it and write to him.

Mr. David Marshall

What new measures, if any, is the Secretary of State taking to improve safety on our roads?

Mr. MacGregor

We spend a lot of time and money on measures to improve safety—road signing, road design——

Mr. Norris

Red routes.

Mr. MacGregor

Yes, on red routes and on matters that I mentioned earlier such as motorway coning. Heavy emphasis is placed on road safety. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that, although we want to do better, the number of road accidents now is the same as in 1948, despite the huge increase in traffic in the intervening period. We not only concentrate heavily on safety but the policy is having its effect.

Mr. Harvey

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, however many trees are planted, building new roads damages the environment, as is evidenced by the M25 and M3 at Twyford Down? As the current road building programme will not meet the 1989 traffic growth forecasts, would not a greener policy be to ensure a level playing field in the investment policies of all modes of transport and to devise policies that reduce the public's need to travel great distances?

Mr. MacGregor

I think that that demonstrates the muddle that the party to which the hon. Gentleman belongs so often gets into on such matters. He cannot say that we are not building enough roads to meet 1989 growth levels but then complain that we are building too many. However much of a switch there is from road to rail-I am very keen on that and we are pursuing it as much as possible—and however heavily we invest in public transport, as we do, there will still be an increasing demand for traffic by road, as prosperity grows, for individual car passengers and for road haulage. Therefore, we need the road programme and I am very keen on a heavy environmental involvement in it.

On the M25 link road, one of the options involves a considerable take-up of extra land because of the landscaping which will mean an enormous number of trees and shrubs being planted. We are trying to get the proper balance.

Mr. Prescott

To judge from the wording of the questions, the Government are more successful at planting questions than planting trees. Does the Secretary of State agree that giving insufficient resources to British Rail while at the same time providing millions of pounds for the building of 14-lane motorways and millions of pounds for the planting of trees will merely increase the level of car exhaust gas emissions which not only damage the trees but add to the global warming problem?

Mr. MacGregor

On the first point, the Government have been very successful at planting trees. The Department of Transport plants more mature broadleaf trees than any other organisation and, as I said earlier, about 300,000 trees and 400,000 shrubs will be planted on the small stretch of the M25 if our preferred option goes ahead. Clearly, there is a heavy emphasis on tree planting.

On the balance between public transport and roads, the M25 proposal will cost £144 million. We are currently spending £700 million on capital investment in London Underground alone and about £2 billion on a very large British Rail capital investment programme. Therefore, there is a balance, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that we should be cutting the road-building programme—other measures will enable us to reach the carbon dioxide emissions target.

Mr. Garnier

Will my right hon. Friend accept the thanks of my constituents for the A6 Market Harborough bypass which was opened last weekend by the Minister for Public Transport? Will he also accept that the building of the bypass has not only improved the environment of Market Harborough by removing cars and noise but has enabled 30,000 or more trees to be planted? Will he please pass on the thanks of my constituents to those involved?

Mr. MacGregor

I am grateful to my hon. Friend who makes an important point about bypasses. Bypasses now take up about 30 per cent. of our total road programme and have a tremendously beneficial environmental effect on everyone who lives in the towns and villages that are bypassed.