HC Deb 20 July 2004 vol 424 cc148-50
12. Mr. Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow) (Lab)

If he will make a statement on his future road programme. [184926]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson)

The Highways Agency is currently proceeding with a programme of 81 major trunk road schemes. Further schemes are being prepared for entry to the programme and will be considered in the light of our priorities and available resources. Our transport strategy document, published today, provides further details of our plans for the road network.

Mr. Hepburn

Can the Minister name two other neighbouring cities the size of Newcastle and Edinburgh that are not linked by a dual carriageway in this country, let alone Europe? The Government are a laughing stock in the north-east because of this. Can we expect some good news in the document that is being published today?

Mr. Jamieson

As my hon. Friend probably knows, I visited the A1 a couple of weeks ago to have a look at the road myself. We have invested, or will invest in the coming years, nearly £100 million. The multi-modal study, which was intended to establish local views, showed no support for full dualling from Newcastle to the Scottish border. However, the improvements from Morpeth to Felton mean that there will be dual carriageway or motorway all the way from Alnwick to London. Although I cannot promise dualling throughout, I can tell my hon. Friend that past and future improvements constitute a major investment in the road.

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)

What on earth is going on with the A21 at Hurst Green? The Minister has now broken his third self-imposed deadline for coming up with his preferred scheme. In a letter to me on 15 July, he said that he was aiming to present his proposals by the autumn, but on 19 July he wrote that he was aiming to make an announcement later in the summer. Is it any wonder that people are losing all confidence in the Government's handling of this proposal, given that hundreds of homes have been blighted by Labour's indecision and stalling?

Mr. Jamieson

Oh dear, that really was not very good at all. The hon. Gentleman came to see me about the road, and I thought that we had had a perfectly sensible discussion about the improvements that we are making to it, the importance of which we do recognise. He should tell his constituents about the policy of his Front-Bench colleagues, which is to cut the roads programme. Under it, there would be no improvements at all, either this year or next.

Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton) (Lab)

When considering future roads programmes, will my hon. Friend impress on the Highways Agency the need to reduce noise from motorways through resurfacing and noise barriers, so that the people who live near them can have some quality of life? Will he further ensure that the Highways Agency implements such measures, particularly noise barriers?

Mr. Jamieson

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: intrusive noise from motorways is very disturbing for people who live close to them. All new or resurfaced roads now have quieter surfaces, and it is this Government who have set aside dedicated ring-fenced funds for resurfacing some of the concrete roads that, although of very good quality, tend to be much noisier than black-top roads. The Highways Agency has the issue very much in mind. I can assure my hon. Friend that the roads will be resurfaced over time and that, once they are, they will be quieter than they were, say, 10 years ago.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)

All this is mere words. Every day, the Government are fleecing motorists through £120 million in motoring taxes, yet they reinvest just £2 million in new roads every day. That is what this Government must be held accountable for, and we need a better deal for the motoring public.

Mr. Jamieson

I am very interested to hear that this Chamber is about words—that will come as a total surprise to everybody here. We are improving junctions, widening roads and making various improvements throughout the country. Such improvements are significant and they represent the very substantial investment that this Government are making in our roads system. Will the hon. Gentleman go back to his constituents in Christchurch and peddle the line taken by the shadow Chancellor—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I call Mr. Ivan Henderson.

Mr. Ivan Henderson (Harwich) (Lab)

My hon. Friend will be aware that although the London to Ipswich multi-modal study recommended dualling of the A120 from Harwich to Hare Green, it has not been made a priority. If there is a major change in circumstances and the planned port development of Bathside bay goes ahead—a public inquiry into that development is under way, but I do not expect my hon. Friend to comment on it—will he review the situation and introduce road dualling, if necessary?

Mr. Jamieson

Yes, and I know that my hon. Friend has made regular representations about this road. Of course, if circumstances changed and major developments occurred in any part of the country in respect of a road serving a port or any other facility, we would re-examine the priority of the scheme in question.

Forward to