HC Deb 30 March 1994 vol 240 cc929-49 3.30 pm
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. John MacGregor)

With permission, Madam Speaker, I wish to make a statement on the trunk road programme review.

I announced in August 1993 that we intended to review the road programme. Today, I want to set out our proposals for a revised and prioritised programme that will ensure a more efficient, better managed and speedier delivery of the improvements that we need and which is compatible with the principles of sustainable development.

My target was to complete the review in time for it to provide the basis for the new Highways Agency, which is being launched today. The review is now complete and copies of the report have been placed in the Vote Office and the Library.

The Government have an excellent record of investment in delivering increased motorway and trunk road capacity, which is so vital to the economic well-being of the country, and in providing bypasses, which remove heavy traffic from the centres of towns and villages, with immense benefits for the residents and their environment.

We plan to spend about £2 billion a year on trunk roads over the next three years, which is almost double the level, in real terms, in 1979. Fifty-seven major contracts are under construction and last month I announced our intention to start work on a further 22 major contracts during 1994–95, which are worth more than £1 billion in total.

However, it is worth reminding the House that, altogether, my Department is spending 50 per cent. of its budget on roads, which account for 90 per cent. of all inland journeys in the United Kingdom, and 40 per cent. on public transport, which accounts for 10 per cent. of journeys. That demonstrates the importance that we attach to rail and urban transport systems and it clearly shows how we skew expenditure that way.

The review does not affect the three-year national roads expenditure plan which was announced at the time of the autumn statement; nor does it cover local authorities' road programmes. It has its origins in the package of measures that I announced to deliver road schemes faster.

In the past, it has taken an average of 13.5 years to get from the entry of a scheme into the programme to its opening. I aim to cut that time by up to a third. We are already making good progress. I recently announced consultation on much-needed changes to road scheme public inquiry rules. The new Highways Agency is now launched. The most important measure in the package, however, was a review of the national trunk road construction programme, with the aim of speeding up the delivery of projects with the highest priority.

The review has been the most wide ranging and in-depth for many years. There was a clear managerial need for establishing priorities. Until now, all the schemes in the road programme have been taken forward with the same effort and many of them at the same speed. That does not make the best use of resources. It wastes money and time, and creates uncertainty.

However, the opportunity has also been taken to go much wider. It is no part of the Government's policies to tell people when and how to travel. On the other hand, we must be aware of the consequences if people continue to exercise their choices as they do at present. In certain parts of the country, the resulting growth will have unacceptable consequences for both the environment and the economy. Of course, there is no realistic possibility of simply halting traffic growth. What we can seek is to bring home its full cost. We must enable people to enjoy access to goods and services and to visit other people, while reducing the amount of movement needed to achieve that aim.

Increases in fuel duty, and motorway tolling, will help people to make more informed choices about the cost of using their cars. Planning guidance just published will also help to reduce the requirement to travel to reach goods and services. However, even a reduced rate of traffic growth will not remove the urgent need that we face already for new bypasses, wider motorways and safer junctions.

The review, therefore, provided the opportunity to check that each scheme was still essential, was on the proper scale, and accorded with the high standards now expected of our road improvements in a way that reconciled the needs of industry and the economy with the needs of the environment. Each scheme in the existing programme has been examined carefully to confirm, among other things, that it produces a high rate of economic benefit in comparison with its cost, and that it has the minimum effect on the natural environment.

The review has concluded that most resources should go on the two priorities of improving key routes, primarily motorways, likely to experience stop-start driving conditions in the foreseeable future, and on bypasses. The number of new trunk routes proposed in the publicly funded programme, especially those through open countryside, will be reduced still further to a total of six. Major urban road improvements should be very limited in number, in the light of the continuing substantial Government investment in urban transport initiatives and the priority attached thereto.

Schemes for which there was no acceptable environmental treatment, and those whose priority meant that they were not likely to be built in the foreseeable future—49 in all—are being withdrawn to reduce blight and uncertainty. Work on them will cease immediately.

The new prioritised borrowing represents a substantial agenda to take us into the next century. It has been drawn up as a rolling programme, which allows schemes to be added to the higher priorities as and when needs become pressing and funding is available. The highest priority schemes will receive the most urgent attention; the longer-term schemes will be taken to the next suitable stage in their preparation, and work on them will be resumed only as the programme rolls forward.

The new Highways Agency is being given specific responsibilities for environmental treatment of road schemes. We now employ a large number of landscape architects and environmental specialists to assess and advise on the best design and environmental treatment of national road schemes. I therefore concluded that the Landscape Advisory Committee, which has done such valuable work, has been superseded by the skills now available to us. I wish to express my thanks to the chairman and members of the Landscape Advisory Committee for all the work that they have done.

I turn now to some specific proposals that will be of special interest to the House.

The proposed east-west route from the M40 to the Haven ports has received a special scrutiny. As has already been announced, work on the A418 Wing bypass and the A418 west of Aylesbury bypass has been suspended. Both those schemes have been suspended pending the outcome of a new strategic study from the A5 to the M40 In the Oxford area. The central section of the route—A5 to Stansted—has now been withdrawn from the construction programme because it was unlikely that an environmentally acceptable route would be found. The eastern section of the route, from the Haven ports to the M11 and Stansted, will still be taken forward.

We have also re-examined our proposals for improving the M25. I have concluded that plans to widen 80 per cent. of the M25 in the next four to five years to dual four lanes and provide capacity beyond that in the south-west sector, are still the only appropriate response to growing congestion. We will, therefore, publish draft highway orders and an environmental statement on the proposed link roads between junction 12 and junction 15 of the M25 on 7 April. The public will be invited to comment on the proposals. All views will be put before an independent inspector and considered at a public inquiry, probably later this year. Work will also progress towards publication of draft orders and an environmental statement on link roads between junction 15 and junction 16. A public inquiry will follow, probably in 1996. I consider that there will also be a need for capacity beyond dual four lanes between junction 10 and junction 12 in the next decade, but work on that project is still at an early stage and no decisions have been taken on the design. As a result of the review, however, work on increasing capacity beyond dual four lanes between junctions 16 and 21A will be deferred.

I have also decided that two proposed strategic studies in the south-east—the Kent-Hampshire study and the M3-M40 study—will not go ahead. That decision underlines my commitment to minimising the number of new routes.

Around Oxford, the two schemes on the A40—the Headington bypass and the north of Oxford scheme—will also be withdrawn from the programme, as will the proposed M12 new route from the M25 to Chelmsford.

The review gives the new Highways Agency an up-to-date agenda to deliver the road improvements that we need most, with maximum speed and efficiency. Our motorway and trunk road network needs to be maintained and improved to secure our economic well-being and environmental benefits—in particular, by keeping through traffic away from local roads—and to continue improving our already good safety record. The review has had to balance the motoring aspirations of the 1990s family with the consequences; and the needs of industry and the economy with the needs of the environment. It has achieved that and I commend it to the House.

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

What the Secretary of State has announced is not, as he would have us believe, an environmentally friendly road-building programme. Most of the Government's bloated roads programme stays in place; only a small percentage has been withdrawn. Will the Secretary of State tell us how many schemes have been finally and irrevocably abandoned? Some of the programme has been stretched over a longer period, sentencing thousands of households to even more uncertainty and blight than before.

The Secretary of State referred to the trunk routes in the publicly funded roads programme. Will he tell the House how many privately funded schemes are to go ahead and whether deferred public schemes could be reintroduced into the programme by the private sector?

The Secretary of State's announcement is not the outcome of a thoroughgoing review. It is not the product of a careful assessment of the future transport and environmental needs of our country. It has not considered the non-motoring alternatives to meeting those needs. Far from it; the new roads programme has been decided, in racing terms, by the Treasury out of Political Embarrassment. The Secretary of State has responded to Treasury pressure for a reduction in his roads budget and to the electoral pressure from local campaigners up and down the country.

For years, the Government have rejected the idea of an overall transport policy. Their only policy has been to build more roads. They produce traffic forecasts and then turn those forecasts into targets to be met. We all know that after each new motorway is built, it is quickly filled with traffic and the resulting congestion is followed by proposals for yet more road building.

Some road building is necessary. The last five miles of the A2 to Dover docks and the Al in Northumberland need to be made dual carriageways, but they are still not a top priority. The M65 in Lancashire needs to be joined up to the M6. At a quick glance, it does not appear in the programme at all. The country wants to know why the Government are persisting with madcap schemes such as relief roads for the M25 around London and for the M62 around the north and west of Manchester.

Why have not the Government taken action to try to get passenger traffic off the roads by giving drivers the chance to choose attractive alternatives? People use their cars, particularly for the journey to work, because their cars get them where they want, when they want. Surely the answer is to ensure that public transport gets more people where they want, when they want. That means more investment in better bus, train and underground services, more investment in modern projects such as the Manchester metro, the Sheffield supertram and the midlands metro.

Why has not the Secretary of State announced a shift of funds from the road programme to public transport? Why have the Government not taken action to get more freight off the roads? Why have they not got on with building the channel tunnel link, the channel tunnel freight terminals and uprating the west coast main line? Why are they persisting in going ahead with a relief road for the M62, the main trans-Pennine motorway, at a cost of £270 million for 11 miles of road? They could attract passenger and freight traffic off the self-same M62 by electrifying the trans-Pennine rail link at a cost of about £170 million. Why do not the Government accept that deregulating the bus services has forced people in many areas to use cars because bus services are no longer available?

What is needed is a genuine review of transport policy, looking at how best to help people and freight get around our country quickly, cheaply, efficiently, safely and with the least damage to local communities and the environment. They will never get that from a Tory Government.

Mr. MacGregor

I should be happy to answer all those points, but I think that I would be out of order if I dealt with every one. I know that the hon. Gentleman was late coming into the Chamber, but he has clearly not read the statement, did not listen to it and does not know what it is all about.

The number of schemes withdrawn is 49, as I said in my statement. That is a significant number of schemes that we do not believe can be delivered within the foreseeable future. We have concluded that a number of schemes, some of which are substantial, are not attractive environmentally and their benefits do not outweigh the environmental disbenefits. A significant number of schemes have been withdrawn—49.

Mr. Dobson


Mr. MacGregor

They have been withdrawn from the programme.

The hon. Gentleman talked about sentencing households to blight because some projects have been put into the longer-term part of the programme. But we are reducing the blight and uncertainty by producing a more realistic timetable for all the schemes. The blight and uncertainty for many will be reduced as many of the schemes have been brought forward under the new set of priorities.

The hon. Gentleman was wrong to describe the statement as a response to the Treasury. At the beginning, I clearly gave our programme for expenditure in the next three years, and that has not been changed. I made it clear that we are drawing up a rolling programme over a considerable period with the right order of priorities. The hon. Gentleman completely missed that point.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether some of the schemes that have been withdrawn would be privately financed rather than publicly financed. The answer is no. As he will know, there is one privately financed scheme at present: the Birmingham northern relief road. A proposition for the Birmingham western orbital road may well be taken forward as a design, build, finance and operate scheme. The schemes that have been withdrawn are not part of the programme.

The hon. Gentleman commented at length on non-motoring alternatives. He has again failed to take into account the fact that we are spending 40 per cent. of the total of a substantially increased budget on public transport for 10 per cent. of the journeys. In London, the ratio is 3:1 in favour of public transport—in the railways, channel tunnel infrastructure—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where?"] The hon. Gentleman totally ignores the £1.4 billion investment that has already gone into infrastructure in the channel tunnel. He thinks that £1.4 billion is not a great deal of money and would happily spend much more, in contrast to his colleagues on the Labour Front Bench who say that they will restrain public spending. The hon. Gentleman was simply talking about spending more.

The expenditure currently being devoted to London Underground is six times more in real terms than it was under the Greater London council in the late 1970s—[Interruption.]In the late 1970s, I said—under a Labour Government. Clearly, a great deal of investment is going into the underground.

The hon. Gentleman implied that, with the exception of a few road schemes, he wants to see road-building schemes halted.

Mr. Dobson

I did not say that.

Mr. MacGregor

That was very much the impression that he gave. If he is saying that he is happy with our road-building programme—

Mr. Dobson

I did not say that either.

Mr. MacGregor

Well, perhaps the hon. Gentleman will make up his mind what he is saying. Either he is saying that he wants to spend much more money everywhere, in contrast to his shadow Treasury colleagues, which belies their position absolutely, or he is saying that he will cut massively the road-building programme in order to devote more resources to other areas of public expenditure. Massive cuts in the road-building programme would have a devastating effect on the economic competitiveness of businesses in this country.

We are devoting resources and effort to transferring more freight from road to rail, but it will not be possible on the scale envisaged by the hon. Gentleman and our businesses would be devastated if he substantially cut the roads programme.

The hon. Gentleman also says that he wishes to reduce choice for families who, with their increased standard of living, want to use their motor cars.

The hon. Gentleman has neither read the policy document nor taken on board why we are taking this action. Above all, his approach to roads, freight and cars is misguided. I hope, therefore, that whenever we embark on a road project, he will come out and say that he is against it. He can then see what the public says.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. Those first two exchanges have taken precisely 21 minutes. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] There is no point in saying "Hear, hear" unless I get the co-operation of the House, with brisk questions and equally brisk answers.

Sir Peter Fry (Wellingborough)

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on conducting a realistic reappraisal of the roads programme, while resisting the cries of those who want to bring the road-building programme to a stop? Does he agree that, over the past 20 years, we have heard the same old story from the Opposition, who have totally ignored the fact that more and more—

Madam Speaker

Order. I have appealed to the House not to make statements. A supplementary question means one question, not a catalogue of questions. That is what I am now looking for from all hon. Members.

Sir Peter Fry

Does my right hon. Friend agree that his statement strikes the right balance between the needs of people who want to drive their own cars, the country's economic needs, and environmental matters, which we all hold dear?

Mr. MacGregor

I agree with my hon. Friend. I have striven, throughout my re-examination of the roads programme, to achieve that, and have put heavy emphasis on environmental aspects. I believe strongly in ensuring that everything that we do is as environmentally friendly as we can make it. That is why the number of schemes has been reduced and we have put heavy emphasis on the environmental aspects of the schemes that we carry forward.

Mr. Nick Harvey (North Devon)

May I welcome the announcement, as far as it goes, particularly the removal of the 49 schemes that have gone altogether? Does the Minister agree that he has given the game away by boasting that roads expenditure is, in real terms, twice the level that it was in 1979? Will he now issue a comprehensive transport Green Paper to consider the alternatives, and try to do something about the 10 per cent. figure for the number of journeys made on public transport and avoid the doubling in car numbers which we are set to see?

Mr. MacGregor

That, of course, is why we are spending 40 per cent. of our budget on public transport. The annual report of my Department as part of the expenditure programme sets out the transport strategy in all its details. I hope that the hon. Member will acknowledge that, for reasons of economic competitiveness and because so many families find it attractive to travel by car and wish to use their cars more, we also have to have a substantial road programme of investment.

Sir Terence Higgins (Worthing)

Has my right hon. Friend's statement any implications for the timing of any development of the A27 in the Worthing area? In view of the emphasis that he rightly places on bypasses, why is his Department persisting in what is not a bypass but a through-pass? Will he ensure that Worthing has a bypass, like virtually everywhere else on the south coast?

Mr. MacGregor

I know exactly the scheme to which my right hon. Friend refers it is in the priority 2 category. It is necessary to go ahead with the assessment of alternative routes before public consultation and public inquiries. It is essential do all that work on priority 2 categories now, because it takes some time to get them to the point of construction. The issue that my right hon. Friend is raising is currently being considered in the public inquiry. We shall have to wait for the outcome of that inquiry and take decisions after it.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)

The Secretary of State will be aware that one scheme that ought to have been dropped but was not is his proposal to build a bypass to the A1 western bypass in Gateshead. Is he aware that that scheme will demolish many homes? It will not deal with the problem; it will cut a huge swathe through the most attractive green belt in Gateshead and leave thousands of my constituents living on a road island. Will he look again at the local authority's alternative scheme which deals with the whole problem, not just the one of through traffic? It demolishes no homes, it protects the green belt, it can be completed in phases and his the Department acknowledges that it is cheaper than his own scheme.

Mr. MacGregor

I am aware that there are many divided views about the scheme to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I have had deputations about it and have been there. The appropriate next stage is the public inquiry, where all the issues can be fully aired. That is what the public inquiry is for.

Mr. Simon Burns (Chelmsford)

Very briefly, may I, on behalf of myself, my right hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr. Newton), the Leader of the House, our constituents and all local campaigners thank my right hon. Friend for killing off the unloved, hare-brained scheme of the M12 to Chelmsford? May I congratulate him and his colleague the Minister for Roads and Traffic on the sensitive way in which they have paid regard to the environment in mid and south Essex. Thank you very much.

Mr. MacGregor

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am grateful, too, for his tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic who has played a notable and powerful part in the review, and I am grateful to him. The M12 proposition seemed to fall absolutely into the category that we are now anxious to avoid whenever possible—new routes through attractive and open countryside. On the other hand, where there is a transport need, we have concentrated on developing along existing road corridors. Where an improvement is needed in that area, the right way is to improve the A12 and not to have a new motorway.

Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

As most of the statement was about the south, will the Secretary of State give some detail about the midlands, particularly around Birmingham? The M6, which runs through my constituency, cannot be widened because most of it is 100 ft in the air. What relief will my constituents get in respect of the urgent need for some genuine bypass arrangement?

Mr. MacGregor

I mentioned some of the schemes because they have been particularly of comment and there are also schemes such as the M12, where we are making a real change. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will look at the full review, where he will see the proposals for the west midlands. One way of helping his particular issue would be noise barriers and sound barriers, but I would wish to engage in correspondence with the hon. Gentleman about the precise details of the scheme.

Mr. Michael Alison (Selby)

The Selby bypass has been placed in the priority 2 designation. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the emphasis will be on priority, rather than on a second-class designation? Will he also confirm that nothing in a priority 2 designation implies an inhibition of the statutory processes, or a delay in the introduction of bulldozers when those processes have been completed?

Mr. MacGregor

Indeed, I can confirm both points. First, priority 2 designation is not about secondary or second-level schemes; it is about the priority given to the tackling of schemes. Secondly, the work will continue to go ahead in such cases.

The point is that we wish to devote resources most urgently to getting the priority schemes through, while carrying forward the earlier stages of public consultation and public inquiry in regard to priority 2 schemes. In some cases, it may be possible to put priority 2 schemes ahead of priority 1 schemes when, for one reason or another, priority 1 schemes are held up. I can confirm to my right hon. Friend that there will be no delay.

Mr. Terry Lewis (Worsley)

Does the Secretary of State accept that the failure to take out the M62 relief road will cause widespread dismay in my constituency and in neighbouring areas? This is probably the most insensitive scheme in the entire roads programme, and placing it in category 2 will worsen the position of people whose homes are already threatened by the insensitive way in which the Department has dealt with the whole business ever since the publication of the White Paper four years ago. It is time that the Secretary of State lived up to his green claims, and did something about such roads. He should remove this monstrous concept from the roads programme now.

Mr. MacGregor

In some parts of the country, the motorway network is already extremely congested—or it is clear that, because of economic growth and development, it will become so. It is very desirable for us to find solutions to that problem, other than simply causing traffic to go off existing motorways and back on to local roads. We are sometimes faced with difficult choices. The scheme to which the hon. Gentleman refers will enable a public inquiry to take place, at which all the issues can be considered.

Mr. John Butcher (Coventry, South-West)

May I thank my right hon. Friend for responding to representations from my constituents who asked for the abandoning of proposals to widen three junctions on the A45 in my constituency? If my right hon. Friend visited Coventry, he would be cheered to the echo by my constituents who have had blight removed from their homes.

Mr. MacGregor

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As he will know, our review concluded that three projects in his constituency should be withdrawn.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

Have not business leaders said that London faces ruin as a business centre because of traffic congestion? Yet the Secretary of State is continuing with the M11 link road, which will bring more traffic into London. Many people in my area will be disappointed—but not surprised, because the Secretary of State is still seen very much as a road junkie.

Mr. MacGregor

As the hon. Gentleman will see when he reads the report, we are concentrating on ensuring that the bypasses around London—the M25 and inner circular routes such as the north circular—continue to be developed to meet the growth in traffic, to avoid through traffic going through London. We are also focusing on road schemes that improve the prospects for employment and economic regeneration in docklands and the east end of London. That is the purpose of those road schemes.

Beyond that, we have suspended most of the other schemes because we wish to review the radial roads. We want to cut improvements to roads that encourage commuters to come into central London by car. That parallels much of the other work that we are doing in London, which places heavy emphasis on public transport—improvements to the Jubilee line and many others, red routes and a number of other policies that we are pursuing. I think that the road policy is consistent.

Mr. Kenneth Carlisle (Lincoln)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it makes great sense to concentrate resources on a smaller number of schemes, so that it takes a shorter time to design and build the roads themselves—and, more important, so that blight is removed in the shorter time scale? That is very welcome.

As my right hon. Friend knows, the A46 between Newark and Lincoln is hugely important to the Lincoln area. Can he give me any news about that scheme?

Mr. MacGregor

I agree with my hon. Friend. I am grateful for all the work that he did as a Minister in my Department prior to the review and which contributed to it greatly. The A46 scheme to which he referred is a priority 2 scheme, so that means that it remains firmly in the programme.

Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North)

In his statement, the Secretary of State talked about bringing home to people the full costs of their choice of road transport. Are the Government proposing to introduce ways of measuring the full costs? Will they include, for example, the cost of losing thousands of lives on the roads every year as well as the terrible environmental costs? Will the Government recognise that those costs are incalculable? Is there some significance in the fact that the Secretary of State omitted to mention the trans-European road network in his spoken statement whereas it is in the typed version?

Mr. MacGregor

If the costs are incalculable, it is difficult to calculate them. We have been doing a great deal of work to try to establish the accurate costing of all these matters. There is an annex in the consultation document that we produced last year which deals with paying for better motorways. It provides an analysis of how we are approaching that.

I simply deleted the part about the trans-European route network because I did not want my statement to be too long. I am happy to make clear the position. It stems from the decision to withdraw part of what was the trans-European route network from Stansted to Oxford. However, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we will continue to have a trans-European route network up to Holyhead and beyond. That will be the route from the Haven ports via Stansted and I have made it clear that that will continue. It will in future follow the existing M11, A604, A14, M6 and M54 routes.

Sir Trevor Skeet (Bedfordshire, North)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in Bedford we have been waiting for 30 years for a bypass? Will my right hon. Friend do his utmost to accelerate the development?

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend illustrates that there are many demands for bypasses now. I know that only too well, as I travel regularly round the country. That is why it has been necessary to prioritise the programme. It is not possible with all the statutory procedures and in terms of the funds available, to have all the bypasses now. We cannot do everything at once. My hon. Friend will be reassured to know that all his schemes remain clearly in the programme and most of them are in priority 2, so that work will continue.

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)

Will the Secretary of State accept that the Birmingham northern relief road referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) was scheduled to open in spring 1994—hat is now? It is his Department's and his predecessor's much-vaunted private sector initiative which guarantees only that there will be a further public inquiry later this year. What sort of balanced road programme proposes a reduction of 5 per cent. in what one of his predecessor's called the biggest road-building programme since the Romans, while proposing also a 24 per cent. reduction in public transport expenditure over the next three years and a 50 per cent. reduction in the railways external financing limit? Balance? What sort of balance is that?

Mr. MacGregor

The balance remains clearly that public transport is gaining in relation to the total number of journeys made on it much more than would otherwise be the case. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Birmingham northern relief road project goes to a public inquiry in the summer. That is one of the reasons why I wish to prioritise the programme. There are a number of public inquiries for some of the bigger and more controversial routes and it is right that there should be. For that reason, we do not wish to carry forward the processes for the whole of the road programme. If there are delays in one or two of the public programmes—the one to which the hon. Gentleman referred is a privately financed programme—priority 2 schemes can come forward. It would not make sense to have schemes in the longer-term programme being taken forward at the same pace.

Sir Geoffrey Pattie (Chertsey and Walton)

Does my right hon. Friend plan to respond to the alternative package of proposals for the M25 put forward by Runnymede borough council by setting up an independent assessment of those proposals?

Mr. MacGregor

I have discussed that question with my right hon. Friend and I am very much aware of the alternative proposals. I am aware also of the strength of local feeling. On the other hand, there is no doubt that unless we do something to remove the potential congestion on that stretch of the road, the effect on local roads will be substantial.

I have been analysing Runnymede borough council's proposals. I do not think that an independent commission is the right way forward because we do not have provision for that. I think that a public inquiry at which all the proposals can be looked at thoroughly is the right way forward. It would enable a much more detailed and public investigation to take place. That is why I believe that we should have a public inquiry and I am certain that the proposals will be looked at thoroughly.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

With the local knowledge of a St. Andrews graduate, will the Secretary of State ask the Secretary of State for Scotland to think of dropping the ill-conceived idea for a second Forth road bridge, abolish tolls and make it possible for Edinburgh—

Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that I hate interrupting, but this is not a Scottish statement. I do not think it right that he should ask the Secretary of State for Transport questions that should be put to the Secretary of State for Scotland. If he rephrases his question, I will, of course, hear him, but I am sure that he will understand that that was a question for the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Mr. Dalyell

I accept your ruling, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

I thank the hon. Gentleman very much. I am much obliged to him; he shows great parliamentary courtesy.

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)

In March last year, the Department's regional office in Leeds agreed to the improvement of the junction of the A57 and A618 by putting a roundabout in place. As the same office told me last month that it does not have a firm completion date and that, indeed, the availability of funds will determine when work on the junction can be started, does the Secretary of State's statement mean that such road safety projects will be given priority or am I to see further fatal accidents on the A57 trunk road before the work is done?

Mr. MacGregor

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, but I do not carry the details of every scheme in my head. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Well, there are huge numbers of them. I suspect that the scheme to which he reters is a local authority scheme and therefore comes within the transport supplementary grant. If that is correct—as it is a local safety scheme, it must be—I point out to him that we are giving substantial sums of money to local safety schemes within the TSG; my announcement today does not affect local authority roads.

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury)

May I welcome my right hon. Friend's sensible announcement concerning the east-west trunk road, but ask him what significance should be attached to his decision to give the Aston Clinton A41 bypass priority 2 in view of the fact that intolerable pressure is being placed on my constituents there by the completion of the Berkhamsted bypass about which his Department's brochure speaks very proudly today?

Mr. MacGregor

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his first comment. Clearly, in making our decision on the scheme, we took into account not only the environmental aspects but the views of many people from the counties involved, including my hon. Friend's. It seemed that the environmental objections overrode any economic benefits that might have come from that particular scheme.

The Aston Clinton bypass is in category 2. We had to wrestle hard with bypass schemes because so many were demanded across the country—a point which the strongly anti-road environmental lobbies completely ignore sometimes. We faced huge demands and it was necessary to prioritise, but all the statutory processes will still apply to that scheme.

Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley)

We appreciate the work that has already been done on the A1 in Northumberland, but when will there be a dual carriageway right through Northumberland up to Edinburgh? There has been carnage and loss of life on that stretch of the road.

Mr. MacGregor

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the improvement to the A1 is a very important project. It is also expensive; the work that we started in Yorkshire proves that. It is a question of timing and establishing priorities, and I think that he will find that the priorities on the different parts of that scheme are outlined in the report.

Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock (Batley and Spen)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the great welcome given to the news about the cancellation of the proposed M1-M62 link and is he also aware how much local appreciation there is in Roberttown and the surrounding areas that we shall continue to have green fields for future generations?

Mr. MacGregor

I am grateful to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

Will the Secretary of State tell us what the statement means for Greater Manchester east? When will the M66 from Denton to Middleton be completed? When will the A6(M) Stockport bypass begin and how much of the vaunted money for public transport, of which the Minister talks, will come to Greater Manchester?

Mr. MacGregor

The M66 Denton-Middleton contract is in priority 1. That means that it has been given the highest priority.

Mr. Quentin Davies (Stamford and Spalding)

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that the cancellation of the Stamford relief road is an absolute disaster for the beautiful and historic town of Stamford, which is literally being suffocated and shaken to death by an endless line of heavy traffic at all hours of the day? Is there any way in which the matter may be reconsidered? In the meantime, will my right hon. Friend consider the possibility of imposing a weight restriction on Stamford bridge? Will he also tell me whether there is any chance of the Deepings bypass being constructed, for which my constituents have been waiting with decreasing patience for the past 50 years?

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend is demonstrating that there are heavy demands all around the country for bypasses and, simply, it is not possible to accommodate them all. One of the reasons why the Stamford relief road was withdrawn was its extremely controversial nature. My hon. Friend will know that the A1(M) Stamford bypass remains very much in the programme. Perhaps I could write to my hon. Friend on his point about the bridge.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham)

I am not sure whether to congratulate the Secretary of State on the A167 western bypass at Durham, because the decision will anger a lot and delight many.

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)

What does my hon. Friend think?

Mr. Steinberg

I am sitting on the fence. Was the decision as a result of the public inquiry? Is that road scheme now dead once and for all, because the situation is becoming worse and worse as more traffic begins to use the road?

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Gentleman has demonstrated in his own case what I frequently find—schemes delight some people and annoy others. I noticed that he did not decide on which side of the fence he was.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

My hon. Friend is on the roundabout.

Mr. MacGregor

Yes, he is going nowhere, but round and round, whereas I have to make decisions. The scheme was withdrawn not as a result of the public inquiry, but because it was extremely controversial and we did not feel that, in the end, it demonstrated that appropriate benefits and value for money could have been achieved from it. We wrestled long and hard over the decision on that bypass. That scheme is withdrawn and will not be renewed, but that does not mean that, in future, one cannot consider other schemes. I am not necessarily making a commitment in that case, but I am making a general point that one can consider other schemes to deal with the special congestion pressures that arise. Indeed, there are some new schemes in the programme, compared with that of 1989, for that very reason.

Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)

During his most welcome statement, my right hon. Friend referred twice to public inquiries. He will know that the centre section of the A299 Thanet way, which is vital to my constituents and to development area status, has been delayed for some 15 months during the public inquiry. That is in not the fault of the Department of Transport; it is due to the unfortunate domestic circumstances of the inspector, and I know that it is as frustrating to my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic as it is to me and my constituents. Does my right hon. Friend have any plans to review the inquiry system?

Mr. MacGregor

I am sorry to hear of that situation. I know that my hon. Friend has talked to the Minister for Roads and Traffic about that issue. Our review of public inquiries is designed to deal with a number of those issues. For example, there are proposals for assistant inspectors and to bring the inquiries more in line with the planning inquiries of the Department of the Environment. I certainly hope that it would help in the sort of case to which my hon. Friend referred and I should certainly be happy to talk to him and my hon. Friend the Minister about it.

Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock and Burntwood)

Is the Secretary of State aware that his remarks about the Birmingham northern relief road will draw hollow laughter from my constituents, who would have seen the opening of that road this year if the Government had not changed it from a public to a private scheme? Will he answer one question about that road? There' is a direct contradiction between the tolling design of that road and the only tolling design that was said in the Government's recent Green Paper to be environmentally and economically acceptable. The statement has not resolved that contradiction. Will the Secretary of State resolve it now?

Mr. MacGregor

The reason we have gone for electronic tolling in the Green Paper is that it is talking about tolling on existing motorways where there are many points of access and exit. We believe that putting a tolling system of the traditional plaza sort on to an existing motorway is not feasible in most cases because it would require a huge land take on an existing motorway and would not achieve the purpose of the exercise. There is a big difference between constructing a new motorway and putting tolling on to existing systems.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Can my right hon. Friend tell me what is the status of the Disley-High Lane bypass under his proposals? That bypass, which is vital to the villages of Disley and Newtown in my constituency, has been on the stocks for many years; hundreds of thousands of pounds have been spent on it. With the increasing use of the existing A6 for heavy commercial vehicles coming from the quarries in Derbyshire to provide aggregate for Manchester airport, the bypass is vital. What is its status? Will my right hon. Friend give some reassurance that it will be in a programme very soon?

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend illustrates precisely some of the problems that we face and the problems that those such as the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), who want to see the road programme substantially cut, simply do not recognise. I am well aware of the pressures for bypasses. However, in view of the substantial number of existing bypasses, and despite our high level of spending—it is slightly down on last year, but it is a record compared with everything in the past—it is not possible to carry through all the bypasses at the speed that everyone would wish. Therefore, we had to examine the economic benefits analysis and other matters in order to set our priorities. It is partly for the reason given by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton)—that a lot of money can be spent on the preparation of bypasses which, in the end, are a lower priority—that I have set about the prioritisation.

The Disley and High Lane bypass certainly remains in the programme, but it is in the long-term programme and, therefore, will have to wait for other bypasses to get priority. There are four other schemes in my hon. Friend's constituency, two in priority 1 and two in priority 2. That shows the heavy pressures on the programme.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Is the Secretary of State aware that at Bramley Vale school, which is a few hundred yards from the motorway near junction 29 on the M1, 25 per cent. of the schoolchildren suffer from asthma and have to use inhalers? How can it make any sense to widen that road? I see that junctions 25 to 28 are in priority 1 and junctions 28 to 31 are in priority 2. Why does not the Secretary of State think about those schoolkids and the many more who will suffer if the Government continue to widen the road, and scrap these projects altogether?

Mr. MacGregor

Because if traffic, including heavy goods traffic, moved at a snail's pace on our motorways or was congested and held up for a very long time, and was hard to move at all, or it went back on to local roads, none of those options would be attractive from the environmental pollution point of view. Improving the main routes to ensure that traffic flows through at a reasonable speed is one of the best ways of reducing environmental pollution. The other part of it is not part of the statement today but is very important—the many measures that we are taking to reduce our environmental pollution through improvements in vehicle emission standards.

Mr. John Ward (Poole)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that my constituents and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill) will be delighted that the Poole harbour crossing and the Poole A31 link are retained firmly in the programme? That will improve the prosperity of the port of Poole and provide a big improvement in the environment in the town of Poole.

Mr. MacGregor

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It is a good example of a scheme that we examined in great detail. There are some environmental disbenefits to the schemes, as my hon. Friend will know, and there are also big economic benefits. Therefore, we had to weigh the two before coming to the conclusion that we did, and I am glad that the conclusion accorded with my hon. Friend's view.

Ms Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)

If the Secretary of State is as committed to public transport as he claims to be, why did he make outside the House yesterday's albeit welcome announcement regarding the Northern line? What choice will there be for the 56 per cent. of people living in my borough who have no access to private transport?

Mr. MacGregor

I should be very happy to answer questions about the Northern line, but I do not think that it comes within the scope of the statement on which I am answering questions. However, there will be plenty of opportunities in the future. It is certainly my intention—

Ms Glenda Jackson


Mr. MacGregor

I think that I should be out of order if I were to answer such questions now.

Madam Speaker

Order. The Secretary of State would be totally out of order. It was very remiss of me not to be aware, until it was a little late, of what the hon. Lady was saying. Otherwise, I should have taken care of it.

Mr. MacGregor

Perhaps we shall have another opportunity. I hope so.

Mr. George Walden (Buckingham)

I should like, first, to thank my right hon. Friend and his sensitive roads Minister for what has been done on the A418. Will my right hon. Friend now pursue his policy of prioritisation? Will he persuade the Cabinet to prioritise public spending on public transport and tell the public that they cannot have it both ways—that they cannot continue to have large public expenditure on universal benefits and, at the same time, expect investment in the subsidisation of public transport? Can my right hon. Friend also explain something that I have never understood—why the Government are against a unified transport policy?

Mr. MacGregor

I thank my hon. Friend for his response to our decisions. He is right to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic, who is not only sensitive but robust in the way he approaches these matters. I cannot go into my hon. Friend's points concerning the wider public expenditure priorities outside my Department. However, I can assure him that particular priorities are considered thoroughly and very carefully all the time, in the context of not only global sums but individual schemes and their inter-relationship.

I sometimes wonder what people mean when they refer to an integrated or unified transport policy. I know what the Labour party means—centralised control, dictation from the centre. My view is that it is very important to let the market work on an infrastructure that is provided in a co-ordinated way by the Government. If my hon. Friend looks at the annual report of the Department of Transport he will see that we set out there the strategic objectives. Running clearly through the report is evidence of coherence and co-ordination in the whole of our transport policy—aviation, shipping and ports, as well as the road and rail infrastructures. These all fit together.

Mr. John Austin-Walker (Woolwich)

As the unloved and hare-brained east London river crossing is not likely to proceed in the foreseeable future, and as it shares with the A5 to Stansted the fact that it is unlikely that an environmentally acceptable route will be found, will the Minister now make it a round 50 and withdraw the proposal, thereby ending the appalling blight in the Plumstead and Abbey Wood area, and introduce instead the Woolwich rail tunnel and the Woolwich metro, which would be environmentally friendly and would cost much less?.

Mr. MacGregor

We expect to announce by the summer how the whole question of the east London river crossing should be taken forward. There remains a strong commitment to the provision of cross-river links, which are needed for the east Thames corridor. The east London river crossing and the Blackwall schemes are complementary. Work is continuing, and I ask the hon. Gentleman to be patient before starting to make his points again.

Sir Michael Grylls (Surrey, North-West)

Unlike most of my hon. Friends, I shall not ask my right hon. Friend for any public expenditure whatsoever. Will he look very carefully at the Runnymede proposals, to which he referred in reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chertsey and Walton (Sir. G. Pattie)? Would not it make more sense to study these before a public inquiry, which would be hugely expensive for everyone involved? If they proved to be better, there would be a saving of £400 million—the amount that my right hon. Friend proposes to spend on these very unpopular link roads.

Mr. MacGregor

I understand my hon. Friend's point entirely. I have looked very carefully at the Runnymede report. Let me explain the difficulty. Our assessment of all the various proposals in the report, many of which, as my hon. Friend knows, we are taking forward anyway, is that they would not make sufficient provision for likely traffic growth on that stretch of the M25, which is between the M3 and the M4 and is one of the busiest parts of the entire United Kingdom transport network. If our assessment is that it does not fully meet the requirements, the important thing will be for all this to be tested at a public inquiry. I believe that it is necessary to have the matter fully investigated in public. I will certainly ensure that all the schemes in the Runnymede report are investigated thoroughly in a public inquiry.

However, there are issues that go way beyond that, and that is why it makes sense to have the public inquiry. The public inquiry is only one part of the process, but it is extremely important. We will have to wait for the recommendations of the inspector which arise from that before we decide what to do next. A public inquiry is the right place for all that to be fully aired.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that the Al link between the east of England and Scotland must be regarded as a key route in any analysis? Is it his intention to stand by the undertaking given by his predecessor before the election to complete the dual carriageway link between Newcastle and Edinburgh and, if so, when?

Mr. MacGregor

I recognise the importance of the A1, and I travel on it frequently. I understand its importance to Edinburgh, but all parts of the road programme and the road network have different amounts of traffic on them. In the assessment we make of how we establish priorities, we must look at such things.

We have indicated the prioritisation of the Al in the review. The hon. Gentleman will know that, of course, there is already substantial work taking place on part of the A1. Everyone who travels through that road improvement will benefit from it, even if other parts are not taken forward at the same pace.

Mr. Home Robertson


Mr. MacGregor

In Yorkshire. Improvements are taking place there already. All those who talk about the importance of the A1 to people in Newcastle and in Scotland and who travel to London will recognise that all the improvements that take place will benefit them. We must set a timetable of priorities for the whole route, but the commitment remains.

Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the majority of people in East and West Sussex and further points to the east and west of Sussex welcome the go-ahead for the A27 for safety, commercial and personal travel reasons, and, not least, for tourism? Equally, the majority of people are concerned about the delay on the A26 link to Sussex's one senior port of Newhaven. It is crucial to the development of that port, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will review the decision and move it up to priority 2.

Mr. MacGregor

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he said about the A27 Lewes to Polegate improvement. He knows that I know that road fairly well. It is interesting to note that some of the objections to any road-building programmes, which have been voiced in the national media, have been related to that scheme. I have been on programmes where that scheme has been sharply criticised. My hon. Friend accurately represents the local view and the view of those who will benefit from the improvement. That is why I am glad that it is priority 2.

As for the other scheme to which my hon. Friend referred, I must repeat that it is not possible to take all improvements forward at the same pace. As we complete other schemes in priority 1 and The existing construction programme, it will be possible to roll forward schemes in the longer-term programme. I have noted what my hon. Friend says.

Madam Speaker

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Thank you very much, Madam Speaker. I knew that I had a 50:50 chance of being called.

Will the Secretary of State comment on the second page of his statement where he mentions the future of the public inquiry system? Is he aware that many people view that as an ominous proposal which seeks to curtail the right of people to attend public inquiries, to put forward points of view that are at variance with the central thrust of Government policy and to bring into account matters of health, environment, total expenditure and alternatives such as public transport, rather than roadbuilding? Many are concerned about that. Could he set those fears at rest and tell us when there will be a statement on the future of the public inquiry system?

Mr. MacGregor

I hope that the hon. Gentleman has looked at the proposals that we put out for public consultation. Those are freely available, and I will happily send them to him. He will see that his fears that the public inquiry system is in any way being curtailed are wrong. We are seeking to bring it up to date, to make it more efficient and effective and to enable it to do its work. We want to bring it more into line with the Department of Environment's public inquiries. I will happily wait to hear the hon. Gentleman's response to the public consultation document that we sent out.

Mr. David Shaw (Dover)

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that dualling of the A2 between Lydden and the port of Dover now has a priority rating which it never had before and that, as a result, he will undertake personally to investigate why there have been delays in the consultation process getting started? Will he do all in his power to ensure that the Highways Agency gets the work under way and that the public consultation will be put into operation this year?

Mr. MacGregor

I can confirm to my hon. Friend that the scheme is in priority 2. I will look into the points that he raised.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

I welcome the confirmation that work is to proceed on the M6-M65 link. Does the Minister appreciate that when that motorway link is completed, 11,000 cars a day will spill into Come at the end of the eastward section of the M65? Will he give further consideration, perhaps along with Lancashire county council, to building the bypasses at Colne and Earby that local people are crying out for?

Mr. MacGregor

I have noted the hon. Gentleman's comments. My hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic will look into them.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

Will my right hon. Friend consider assisting Madam Speaker by taking up the recommendation of the Procedure Committee that he should publish his document perhaps 15 or 30 minutes before he makes his statement so that Members can see what it says and might well not have to ask the question that I now have to ask? Will he confirm that full dualling of the major roads to the west country, between the end of the M3 and Exeter—the A303 and the A30—has not been delayed in any way?

Mr. MacGregor

On the first part of my right hon. Friend's question, he will know that that is not a question for me now. I am going by the existing rules. On his second question, he will know that the A30 Honiton to Exeter improvement will start in the year about to begin. Certainly some of the other schemes of concern and interest to him are in priority 2.

Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar)

I am grateful for my right hon. Friend's announcement on the M12, plans for which have blighted a considerable part of my constituency. He mentioned the upgrading of the A12. Will he confirm that it will not be made up to motorway specifications and that my constituency will not be blighted by the son of M12?

Mr. MacGregor

I can confirm that the road will not be upgraded to motorway status. The point that I hope my hon. Friend recognizes—I think that he does, because he welcomed the M12 decision—is that it makes sense to concentrate the improvements required because of increased traffic to existing road corridors such as the A12. That does not mean that they have to be a motorway.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

If my right hon. Friend is against driving new roads through beautiful countryside, why does not he score a half century, make the 49 up to 50 and drop the wretched western orbital route?

Mr. MacGregor

I am aware of my hon. Friend's objection to that route. At present, the proposal is suspended while we consider the design, build, finance and operate initiative that we are undertaking. In due course, perhaps I can come back to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Robert Hicks (Cornwall, South-East)

I welcome the retention of the two A38 trunk road schemes in my constituency as priority categories. Can my right hon. Friend give a categorical assurance to the House that the project for a second Tamar crossing has been dropped?

Mr. MacGregor

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments about the two schemes to which he referred. It is interesting to note that this afternoon there have been many welcomes of the schemes that are in the programme and the objections have mainly come from those who have had to face the fact that some of their schemes will be delayed a little because of the priorities. The welcomes and objections have come from hon. Members on both sides of the House. I hope that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) recognises the priority that so many people in the House and outside give to the roads programme. The hon. Gentleman mentioned a few examples himself. He went out of his way to say that we should abandon large sections of the programme that we are carrying through. I do not think that that reflects what the House feels or what the people in the country feel. We are still considering the Tamar crossing and we hope to come to a decision about it fairly soon.