HC Deb 06 January 2004 vol 416 cc145-6
5. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD)

If he will make a statement on his plans for traffic congestion reduction. [145868]

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

We are tackling congestion through major investment in road improvements as well as measures to improve the flow of traffic and providing improved information for road users. Last July I announced a study to explore the feasibility of options for road pricing.

Tom Brake

The Secretary of State will recall the Deputy Prime Minister's statement that he should be held to account if he had not reduced road traffic within five years: of course, he failed. The current Secretary of State said that the Traffic Management Bill will allow our roads to be managed more effectively. When does he now expect congestion—not the rate of growth in congestion—to be reduced?

Mr. Darling

One reason why traffic growth has been so high is that the economy has grown strongly over the past six years. There is not an economy in the world in which such growth has not been accompanied by increased car ownership.

I have made it clear many times that the objectives set out in the 10-year plan, while admirable, were perhaps over-optimistic because the consequences of strong economic growth in relation to car ownership were not, I think, fully anticipated at the time. However, the measures that we are putting in place to deal with increased capacity on the roads and to manage better the flow of traffic on roads, as well as the longer term measures that we are considering, such as road pricing, all mean that people will continue to go about their day-to-day business, but, we hope, on less congested roads.

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East) (Lab)

The Secretary of State will know that congestion occurs not only in England but in Scotland as well. Congestion on the M74 into Glasgow has been mentioned. Similarly, gaining access to Edinburgh is a great problem for people who come from north of the Forth. Is he in talks with the Scottish Executive on the need to advance another access route in the Kincardine bridge area on to the M876, or is he considering a second Forth road bridge to deal with congestion into Edinburgh?

Mr. Darling

I know that a second Forth road bridge is a subject of great controversy in Edinburgh, with one's views depending to a large extent on which side of the Forth one happens to live. I am not aware of any current active proposals to build a second bridge at Queensferry, but I think that the Scottish Executive are considering plans to improve the crossing at Kincardine: that bridge is now quite elderly and is under heavy pressure. However, it is for the Scottish Executive to make a decision on that.

Mr. Piara S. Khabra (Ealing, Southall) (Lab)

My constituency is one of the most congested areas in the whole of London. Will the Secretary of State tell the House what plans his Department has to reduce that congestion, which is environmentally very damaging?

Mr. Darling

In common with other areas of London, my hon. Friend's constituency suffers from heavy congestion. Two matters are important in relation to London, the first of which is to maintain and continue investment in public transport. My hon. Friend will know that, as a result of the tube partnership, we are putting about £1 billion into the tube every year for the next few years; and, through the grant that we give, the Mayor has improved spending on buses in London. Those two public transport measures will help. Secondly, the measures set out in the Traffic Management Bill, which we debated yesterday, will help to ease the flow of traffic in London and elsewhere.

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