HC Deb 03 March 1998 vol 307 cc851-2
34. Mr. Bob Russell

What action the Government are proposing to take to encourage councils to introduce further traffic-calming measures; and if he will make more financial resources available. [30656]

Dr. Strang

I recently announced the Government's intention to remove the requirement for local highway authorities to obtain the Secretary of State's consent to making 20 mph speed limits. That should encourage the creation of more 20 mph zones, particularly where children and vulnerable road users are most at risk. The Department will continue to provide local authorities with guidance on traffic-calming measures. We are currently considering what resources can be made available for 1999–2000.

Mr. Russell

I am grateful both to this Government for what they are doing on road safety—and, in fairness, to the previous Government, who pioneered traffic calming. I regard road safety as a non-party issue. However, more money is needed because road safety is in the national interest. I draw the Minister's attention to the high street scheme in my constituency, which has been funded by Government, past and present; the county council, past and present; and the borough council. It has led to a reduction of almost 50 per cent. in the number of accidents. Given that the Department's figures show that a fatal accident costs £1 million, a serious injury accident £110,000 and a slight injury accident about £10,000, the introduction of that traffic-calming system across the country would save hundreds of lives, prevent thousands of injuries and save the country money. Can we have more resources for more traffic-calming schemes?

Dr. Strang

Yes, the hon. Gentleman is right to commend so strongly the Colchester transport package, which this Government, like the previous Government, support. It contains a number of positive elements such as the provision of bus priority measures at key points and the development of cycle networks. As he rightly said, it has a strong emphasis on safety, traffic-calming measures and 20 mph zones. It is because of the merits of those schemes that I recently announced that local highway authorities will no longer have to approach the Government to create new 20 mph zones.

Ms Southworth

Will my right hon. Friend work with local authorities and public and private sector partnerships that are working to create sustainable town centres that are safe, environmentally friendly and accessible to everyone in the local community? In particular, will he give consideration to the unfair competition from out-of-town shopping centres that provide free car parking?

Dr. Strang

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. Most hon. Members would accept that when the former Secretary of State for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), announced that he was changing the planning legislation in relation to the development of out-of-town centres, it was a case of shutting the stable door after the horse had bolted. Far too many out-of-town centres have developed. We must now cope with that situation. Clearly, the encouragement of greater use of public transport and the promotion of an integrated transport policy are made so much harder by the development of out-of-town schemes.

Mr. Dafis

Do not reductions in the roads budget—which are reasonable enough for the purpose of discouraging unsustainable traffic growth—sometimes lead to cuts in the resources available for traffic-calming measures? That is an ironic outcome. What can the Government do to ensure that, while the roads budget may be reduced for good reasons, that other aspect of investment in roads is encouraged and enhanced?

Dr. Strang

I would be keen to examine any examples of that. We are, as the hon. Gentleman knows, very much in the business of encouraging more investment in traffic-calming measures and more emphasis on safety. However, he is right to point out that we cannot continue a policy of building more and more roads. It is important that transport packages are designed to put the emphasis on safety.

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