HC Deb 18 May 2004 vol 421 cc816-7
11. Mr. James Plaskitt (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)

What steps he is taking to ease congestion during road works on trunk routes. [173503]

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

The Highways Agency designs roadworks in a manner that minimises disruption to the road user. Where possible, planned works take place during off-peak hours. As many lanes as possible are kept open, following notification to the public.

Mr. Plaskitt

My hon. Friend will be aware that the Highways Agency is carrying out an extensive works programme at junction 15 on the M40, the Longbridge round about. That is a very severe pinch point in the road network. I am very pleased that the work is being carried out, and I lobbied hard for it for a long time. While it is being carried out, however, carriageway restrictions from time to time cause very severe congestion. I have asked the agency to look at how the work is phased, and to consider doing more at night, but it is not very keen. Will my hon. Friend discuss the Longbridge work with the agency, to see whether these temporary difficulties can be overcome?

Mr. Jamieson

I can tell my hon. Friend that I have done that already, in the light of the parliamentary question that he has tabled. I understand his concern, on behalf of his constituents, about the delays on that stretch of road. The work being carried out is necessary to improve traffic flow and safety. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that the work on the island will be completed in the next two weeks, and that all the works in the area will be finished by September. Unfortunately, night work is not always possible on this project. That is due in part to the need to ensure the safety of the work force, as there is a hole 1 m deep at the side of the road, and to the fact that the work being undertaken is of a type that it is difficult to conduct during the night. However, my hon. Friend makes a serious point, and I shall urge the Highways Agency further to expedite the work.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con)

The Minister is always very helpful, but will he ensure that there is more co-operation between the Highways Agency, local highway authorities and the utility companies? That would mean that, when a trunk road was subject to road works being carried out by the utility companies, the alternative route—which may not be a trunk road—would not be subject to works at the same time. To my mind, such co-operation would be sensible and would limit congestion.

Mr. Jamieson

My hon. Friend—[Laughter] The hon. Gentleman said such nice things about me, I thought that I would define him as my hon. Friend. He makes a good point. The Highways Agency is looking to make sure that the works that it carries out are, where possible, co-ordinated with other local works. The hon. Gentleman will know that the new centre in Birmingham and the new regional information centres that are being set up will give far better information to

motorists. Also, traffic offices are now in place around the midlands—not quite into the hon. Gentleman's area yet—and they are helping to keep the traffic flowing.

The hon. Gentleman makes a serious point and it is something that we are mindful of in all the programmed work that the Highways Agency undertakes.

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab)

My hon. Friend will be aware that roadworks are caused largely by damage from heavy vehicles. I am sure that he will be familiar with the fourth power law, relating axle weight to road damage. Would it not be a sensible way forward to invest more heavily in rail freight, especially that which is capable of taking road trailers on trains? That would take traffic off the roads, reduce the level of road damage and reduce congestion.

Mr. Jamieson

My hon. Friend asks a very clever question. Of course we are making efforts to take freight from the roads on to rail where we can, and where possible on to water, as the Minister of State said earlier. Notwithstanding that, the road network will still be needed to carry the vast bulk of traffic. Most roadworks are due to deterioration caused by all road users over a long time. So it is not an either/or. We must spend money on our rail system for freight and passengers, but it is essential to keep the road system in good condition. I am pleased to say that the Highways Agency roads are probably some of the best maintained not just in the country but in Europe.