HC Deb 18 July 1994 vol 247 cc3-4
2. Mrs. Angela Knight

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what assessment he has made of the environmental benefits resulting from the tolling of motorways.

14. Mr. Spring

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what assessment he has made of the environmental benefits of the tolling of motorways.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. John MacGregor)

Motorway tolling will provide another source of finance for improving the motorway network, helping to avoid the congestion and associated environmental problems that would otherwise come with economic growth and increasing traffic. It will also enable more efficient use to be made of the network, for example, by pricing to spread peak-period congestion.

Mrs. Knight

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply, but motorway noise will still be high. Is he aware that the houses of my constituents in Long Eaton and Sawley are a bare 20 ft from the edge of the M1, with only a garden fence between them and the traffic? In such circumstances, does he agree that effective sound barriers are needed, whether or not the motorway is widened, so that my constituents can again hear themselves speak in their gardens?

Mr. MacGregor

The effective way of dealing with that problem is to take measures when the motorway is widened. My hon. Friend will know that a preview of the public consultation for widening between junctions 25 and 18 is taking place today and in the coming weeks. I believe that my hon. Friend has been able to discuss all those matters on site with representatives of the Highways Agency. I can tell her that the agency expects mitigation measures, which will come with the widening, to reduce the noise significantly, and they will include contouring the adjoining land, putting up fencing and the other measures to which she refers.

Mr. Spring

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the extra revenue raised from tolls can be used to improve motorways, thus diverting money to help keep traffic off minor roads? Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that, in rural Suffolk constituencies such as mine, where there is great concern about excessive traffic in our historic villages, the environmental advantages of that are fully recognised?

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend is certainly right that that will be one benefit of motorway tolling; it will enable additional finance to be found for the widening of motorways. That will enable us to avoid some of the environmental disadvantages that will accompany increasing traffic if traffic increasingly goes off the motorways and on to historic towns and villages or other villages and towns nearby. So there is definitely an environmental benefit to be had from motorway tolling—in addition, of course, to the benefits of reducing congestion and its costs.

Mr. Bennett

But what estimate does the Minister have of the number of people who will not be willing to pay the tolls and will divert on to existing roads instead? Is not he already aware that some people seem reluctant to pay tolls on some of the river crossings and are already putting extra burdens on existing roads? Is not this a crazy policy?

Mr. MacGregor

If the hon. Gentleman looks at the consultation document on motorway tolling, which was published last year, he will see that that was addressed fully in a chapter of its own. The point is, first, that it is important to keep the motorway tolls at a reasonable level to avoid the danger of local diversion but, secondly, that if we do not widen the motorways, diversion to local roads is likely to be much greater because of congestion on those motorways.

Ms Eagle

But does not the Secretary of State realise that, if he imposes a tax on using motorways, people will seek to avoid it by diverting on to other roads? All that he is doing is creating even more problems for drivers and public transport policy. Surely, what he should do is to instigate proper public transport policy and persuade people to move away from using the car.

Mr. MacGregor

We are currently spending very substantial sums on public transport. Investment is at a record level. The hon. Lady must recognise that it would not be possible to duplicate with a public transport system all the many thousands of journeys with different sources and different destination points that are undertaken each day on the motorway. That would be physically impossible. It is therefore important to improve the motorways to avoid the very dangers that she foresees of diversion on to local roads which will arise if the motorways are not effective.