HC Deb 07 March 2000 vol 345 cc848-9
3. Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks)

How much will be spent on motorway and A-road noise mitigation in 2000–01. [112174]

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Michael Meacher)

The Highways Agency has undertaken to spend £5 million on noise mitigation measures in 2000–01 at high-priority locations on trunk roads, which include motorways and major A-road links. This is in addition to the expenditure on providing quieter road surfaces during the course of normal maintenance.

Mr. Fallon

My constituency includes a triangle of busy motorways that increasingly is to the detriment of the parishes of Kemsing, Otford and Chevening. The ring-fenced funding is very welcome, but when will modern asphalt and better screening be used to give a better quality of life for those who live in those tunnels of noise?

Mr. Meacher

I entirely understand the hon. Gentleman's point. He is referring, I think, to the triangle created where the M25 and M26 connect with the M20. We recognise that excessive noise is a major concern to people who live near busy roads. He will know that we set out the sift criteria for dealing with that problem in a parliamentary answer on 22 March last year. A composite list of all roads meeting those criteria was published on 11 November. The Highways Agency is developing the programme of priorities within that list. Some of those studies were completed by the end of last year, and I am sure that the others will be completed soon. The Highways Agency expects that 1,200 lane-km of trunk-road network will be resurfaced in 2000–01, at a cost of about £20 million. Perhaps some will be in the hon. Gentleman's area.

Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton)

I thank my right hon. Friend for the information about what the Government are doing to reduce noise from motorways. However, will he investigate a problem in my constituency that involves properties near motorways? When we approached the Highways Agency about the matter, it quoted the previous Government's decision not to make available expenditure for reducing the noise suffered by people who live in properties built near motorways. Will he investigate the situation with a view to rectifying it? Under the Tories, motorways were built near properties, yet the people living in them are being denied insulation to reduce the noise.

Mr. Meacher

My hon. Friend makes a very fair point. As we all know, under the previous Government, the cheapest measure was often that which was implemented. We do not believe that that is necessarily right. "A New deal for Transport: Better for Everyone" published in July 1998 recognised the problem. The roads review that we implemented at that time said: Quieter road surfaces will be specified routinely in all future contracts for resurfacing. The most appropriate noise reduction measures will be used when noise is of the greatest concern. We believe that that is right, and it is very different from what happened under the previous Government.

Mr. Robert Syms (Poole)

Is the Minister not ashamed that the Government are spending only £5 million on the important topic of noise reduction? Is he aware that of the 174,000 miles of road network, that money will allow noise reduction measures to be carried out on only 60 miles a year? Is this not a case of the Government failing to deliver on the promises that the Deputy Prime Minister made in "A New Deal for Transport: Better for Everyone"? Is this not just another Government failure on roads?

Mr. Meacher

I must say that the hon. Gentleman has a brass neck to accuse us of spending only £5 million when his Government not only did not spend £5 million, but built the noisy roads in the first place. He is also wrong to say that that amount is necessarily limited to 60 miles of road. I have already indicated that operational requirements in terms of maintenance and roadway improvement will lead to resurfacing with a quieter surface as a routine measure. In addition, we will be providing noise mitigation measures over a much greater length of motorway or of other trunk roads by the use of noise barriers and other measures.