HC Deb 15 October 2002 vol 390 cc167-9
7. Mr. David Amess (Southend, West)

What recent representations he has received from the Civil Engineering Contractors Association about new road building projects. [71418]

8. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South)

What recent representations he has received from the Automobile Association about new road building projects. [71419]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling)

I have met representatives of the Automobile Association and the Motorists Forum, on which the AA is represented, to discuss road transport. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport hopes to meet the Civil Engineering Contractors Association soon.

Mr. Amess

I had anticipated that answer, but does the Secretary of State agree that, in the interests of the efficient delivery of the Government's road building programme and best value in public investment, it would be jolly helpful if there could be some indication of when there will be demand for the services of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association? So in that spirit, will he tell the House when there is likely to be an announcement of major road improvements such as those in the multi-modal integrated transport studies?

Mr. Darling

That is a very fair point, and I hope to be able to make an announcement on a number of the multi-modal schemes that are before me in the next few months.

Richard Ottaway

The Secretary of State will be aware that the A23 Coulsdon relief road in my constituency was one of the 34 projects announced by the Government in July 1998. He will also be aware that responsibility for building that road was transferred to the Mayor of London in 2000. In 2001, the Mayor said that he could not build it because the Government had not given him enough money to do so. Now that the Mayor is looking at it again, can the Secretary of State assure me that the Government will provide enough funding for that project to be built and that there will be no excuses about it being a matter for the Mayor?

Mr. Darling

I am not certainly going to get into the position where the Mayor comes to me every time that he has run out of money and says, "Please give me the money to meet all my commitments." The hon. Gentleman very fairly recognises that that road is the responsibility of Transport for London. The Government give TEL its budget—it is a significantly increased budget—but the Mayor, who is democratically elected, has to decide what are his priorities. We cannot be in a position where he simply spends the money and then comes back to the Government saying "Please pay up." No Government of whatever political colour would ever get themselves into that situation.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)

Is the Secretary of State aware that south-east England is chronically short of transport capacity of all kinds—railway routes and roads? Will he come to the House soon to tell us how he proposes to ease road congestion by road widening and junction improvements? Is he aware that the South East England Development Agency does not speak for people in my constituency, as it has tried to block necessary expansions of capacity and turned a blind eye to chronic shortage and congestion? Would it not be better to abolish that body and spend the money on road improvements?

Mr. Darling

I admire the right hon. Gentleman's brass neck in many ways. It would have been nice if investment in road and rail had been sustained over the past 20 to 30 years. Many of the problems about which he and his constituents rightly complain are a result of two things. One is growing prosperity—there are more cars and more people with reasons to travel. Unfortunately, however, that comes on top of a failure of successive Governments to make the necessary investments in transport infrastructure. In relation to junctions, I hope that, if we are able to make progress, I will be able to say something that may cheer him up.

Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead)

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the urgent need for new road systems for east-west traffic in counties such as Hertfordshire? For instance, the M10—now about 20 years old—between the M1 and the A1 gets halfway and suddenly disintegrates, and a large number of bottlenecks occur over a five-mile stretch. Will my right hon. Friend try to ensure that east-west links are properly considered in relation to new road building?

Mr. Darling

I agree with my hon. Friend. I know that there is a problem with east-west links in a number of places. As I said, I hope to make announcements in the not-too-distant future following the multi-modal studies. I have noted that representations have been made not just by Labour Members but by Conservatives and Liberals, too. I hope that those representations will be as robust when the shouts of protest go up, when the decisions are made by people who hold completely different views.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch)

Is the Secretary of State ashamed that his Government have cut investment in roads over the last five years? Last night, at the Freight Transport Association dinner, he made a welcome U-turn, recognising that congestion causes accidents, creates pollution and costs money. In the past five years, under his Government, 50 per cent. more time has been wasted by employees owing to congestion on the roads. When will the Government be able to claim that they have reduced congestion to the levels that existed in 1997?

Mr. Darling

One of the reasons why congestion was less of a problem before 1997 was very high unemployment and one of the deepest recessions that this country has ever seen, of which, if I remember rightly, the hon. Gentleman was one of the principal architects as it was his ideology that got us there. In the spirit of being nice, I am glad that he enjoyed my speech last night, in which I simply reiterated what I have been saying since I was appointed to this job in May. If he holds his horses, I will make another speech tomorrow in which I will develop those themes and my approach towards road building more fully.