§ 2.52 p.m.
§ [The question was as follows:
§ To ask His Majesty's Government, whether any instructions have been 241 given, or requests made, to highway authorities to reduce or curtail expenditure upon improvement and, or, maintenance; if so what are the nature of such instructions and the reason for them; whether it has been possible to form any estimate of the abnormal damage caused to the roads of the country by the recent bad spell in addition to the serious arrears of maintenance from the war years.]
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (LORD INMAN)
My Lords, my right honourable friend, the Minister of Transport, informs me that he has no power to instruct highway authorities to curtail their road expenditure. Many county councils, however, have been informed, after examination of their maintenance estimates for classified roads in the current financial year, that grants will not be available towards the full amount of the estimates, as the anticipated grant-in-aid of the Road Fund is insufficient to allow such a generous provision. The rate at which such new commitments for grants towards road improvements can be undertaken is similarly limited by the funds available for that purpose. It has not yet been possible to form an estimate of the cost of the abnormal damage to the roads from frost and floods. The preparation of such an estimate is in hand. But I can inform the. noble Earl that the cost of clearing ice from trunk and classified county roads during the first quarter of this year is provisionally estimated at £1,500,000.
§ EARL HOWE
While thanking the noble Lord for his answer, may I ask him whether he is aware that the action taken by His Majesty's Government in the form of requests, which I understood was what he indicated, has resulted in an almost wholesale cutting down in the estimates already made by county authorities for the maintenance of classified roads, and that this is likely to have a most serious effect? As I think everyone who knows anything of the subject will agree, the deterioration is tremendous; furthermore it is likely to lead to serious deterioration of the vehicles using the roads, particularly the commercial vehicles, at a time when spare parts are almost unobtainable. Therefore a most serious situation is likely to result. Would the noble Lord indicate to Parliament the exact nature of the communication which has been addressed to the county authorities?
§ LORD INMAN
I cannot quite accept the noble Earl's suggestion that there has been wholesale cutting down. If I may give one illustration, I would quote the provisional figures in the case of Leicester as a case in point. There the council's estimates for Class I roads amounted to £75,481 and the amount for which grant will be available is £67,772, the reduction being only 10.2 per cent. In regard to Class II roads the council's estimate was for £113,554 and the amount for which grant will be available is £96,675 or a reduction of 14.9 per cent.
§ EARL HOWE
If I am able to furnish the noble Lord with particulars relating to seven major counties dealing with Class I roads, where in each case the estimates have been reduced to almost nil as the result of Government action, will he give further consideration to the problem? This is likely to produce a most serious situation
§ LORD INMAN
I shall be very grateful if the noble Earl will provide me with those figures, and I will take up the matter with my right honourable friend, the Minister of Transport.