§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Lord MOLSON rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what guidance they do and will give to Inspectors holding road inquiries regarding evidence as to future traffic and the need for the road; and whether they give objectors adequate information as to ancillary and access roads constituting parts of the total scheme. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should like to begin by expressing my sympathy for the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, who was to have replied tonight. I am very sorry indeed to hear that she has been struck down, as so many people have been, with influenza, and I hope she will make a rapid recovery and will give us the pleasure of her company in this House again. But of course in the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, she has a most admirable understudy.
§ I originally drafted this Parliamentary Question after reading Mr. Silkin's Statement in another place on 20th January, when he said that he is keeping the procedures and arrangements for road inquiries under review. After I had drafted the Question, the Command Paper (Cmnd. 6393) was published, dealing with future expenditure upon roads and transport as well as other matters, and I thought I would widen my Question in order to ask the Government 789 what their thinking is as a result of the greatly reduced expenditure upon roads.
On 20th January Mr. Silk in referred to the problems which have arisen as a result of public agitation in connection with the Airedale public inquiry. Let me say at once that I have no sympathy whatsoever with people who violently, or in a disorderly manner, upset any of the procedures by which public opinion can be elicited. In making his Statement he said:
I have been keeping the procedures and arrangements for their inquiries "—
that is, inquiries in connection with roads—
under review to see what can be done to improve the presentation and intelligibility of the information which is provided to objectors and to make the arrangements generally more acceptable to all concerned. In particular, I am considering whether it would be helpful to have formal rules of procedure for highways inquiries, although the principles underlying the formal rules which have been made for other inquiries are observed at all highways inquiries. "—[Official Report, Commons, 20/1/76, col. 387.]
My Lords, I inquired from the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir, the chairman of the Council on Tribunals, whether the Department of the Environment had been in touch with them on this matter. I had a reply from him telling me that they had already considered the rules. He went on to say that, from the Minister's Statement in another place on 20th January, there is to be a review of procedures and arrangements. I should like to ask the Government what is the difference between the rules which apparently have been submitted to the Council on Tribunals and the procedures and arrangements which have yet to be reviewed and to be considered in consultation with that Council. Let me ask the Government and the Department of the Environment whether they will be good enough to allow the Council for the Protection of Rural England, of which I am president, to be consulted in regard to these procedures. We have been consulted about rules and procedures made under the pollution Act and I do not quite know why a distinction should be drawn between procedures of inquiries under the road Acts and those that are held under the Prevention of Pollution Acts. We have always welcomed the opportunity of consultation in early stages and I think I can claim
that we have generally been reasonable in the representations that we have made.
§ I now turn to the problem of what will be the volume of traffic on our roads in the future. There was a time when local inquiries were allowed to question the estimates which the Department of the Environment made with regard to the growth of traffic in the future; but recently that has no longer been allowed. I am not sure whether that did not result from the severe criticisms of the statistical methodology at the M 16 inquiry in May 1975—I think rather effective criticisms —made of the forecasts of the Transport and Road Research Laboratory by Dr. John Adams of University College, London. I suspect—I trust I am not of an unduly suspicious disposition—that that is one reason why the Department of the Environment at the M 67 inquiry in August 1975 insisted that these forecasts made by the Road Research Laboratory were Government policy and, as such, should not be open to criticism at a local inquiry. I cannot see how an estimate of future traffic can be a part of Government policy. It may be, and no doubt is, the basis upon which Government policy is founded. Of course, I quite realise that Government policy is the prerogative of the Government and cannot be impugned at a local inquiry which is really concerned with local matters.
§ I do not propose to go into the criticisms which Dr. John Adams made. I prefer rather to dispute on broad grounds which are generally known the very optimistic estimates which the Road Research Laboratory has made for the growth of traffic in the future. They have something which they call the saturation level and they think that by the year 2,000 the motor ownership in Great Britain will have gone up to 0.45 motor cars per head. In 1975 it was 0.25. They claim that this increase from 0.25 to 0.45 in the year 2,000 is a conservative estimate, because the number of cars per head in the United States of America is already about the figure of 0.45.
§ My Lords, does anyone seriously suppose that in AD 2,000 the United Kingdom will have as large real income per head as the United States of America has now and therefore as many cars per head? This forecast based on saturation is in line with the assumption that gross 791 domestic product will go on increasing permanently at between 2½ per cent. and 3½per cent. per annum. Even in the relatively prosperous years between 1967 and 1972 the growth in gross domestic product was only 2.1 per cent.
§ The White Paper which the Government issued last week tells us that in the last three years output has increased by only 2 per cent. I do not know exactly what is the relationship between output and gross domestic product; I daresay they are not the same thing but they are obviously fairly closely connected. If in the last two years output has increased by only 2 per cent., it is then difficult to understand why the Government in the same White Paper estimate that traffic is likely to increase by 10 per cent. between 1975–76 and 1978–79. Indeed, the latest figures I have show that car registrations in 1974 were the lowest for three years, and are continuing to decline. Indeed, in the newspapers yesterday, the figures for registrations in January 1976 were lower than those in January 1975, and I am inclined to think that we are very near to having reached the peak of car ownership in this country, particularly as at the same time the number of discontinued registrations has continued fairly steadily to increase.
In view of these facts, I do not understand why the Road Research Laboratory, in what I think is their latest pronouncement on this subject, say:
There is no reason to believe that the present economic stagnation will continue Indefinitely ".
It is certainly likely to continue for some time. There is no reason to expect that when the stagnation comes to an end, it will be followed by a rate of economic growth of 2.5 per cent. per annum, which is more than we have managed to achieve in most of the years since the war.
§ In view of the Government's more realistic view of the economic future of this country, as shown by the publication of the new White Paper, I hope they will be willing to say tonight that the old forecasts of vehicles and traffic in Great Britain made by Dr. Tanner of the Road Research Laboratory in 1974 will now be revised in a downward direction. If local inquiries are not the proper form, as Mr. John Silk in said, for a discussion of these matters, I thought it appropriate 792 to raise the matter here, because Parliament is undoubtedly the right forum for doing so.
§ Therefore, I conclude by repeating my question: will the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, be good enough to explain exactly how far the further considerations have proceeded with regard to inquiries into road traffic? Perhaps she can say that it is intended to apply the existing rules procedure for other inquiries under the Town and Country Planning Acts to road inquiries, to which they do not apply at the present time. I would ask whether the Council for the Protection of Rural England and other amenity societies may be consulted when these matters are being considered. I ask the noble Baroness to indicate that the existing forecasts of future traffic in this country are being revised at the present time in the light of economic facts as revealed in Cmnd. 6393.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Lord AVEBURY
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Molson, very appropriately has asked, if these traffic forecasts are not permitted to be considered at local inquiries, where else is there an opportunity of discussing them at all? The noble Lord may not have noticed, but my honourable friend Mr. Stephen Ross tabled a Question to the Secretary of State for the Environment, answered on 18th February 1976. My honourable friend had asked in what form traffic forecasting could be debated. The Answer he received from Dr. Gilbert was:Traffic forecasting will be one of the subjects covered in the consultative paper on transport policy which my right honourable friend plans to publish shortly."—(Official Report, Commons; 18/2/76; col. 710.)In other words, he did not answer the Question at all, but just said that these matters are to be taken into account in the White Paper, omitting to say how the people who disagree with the traffic forecasts can have an opportunity of making their views known if they are not permitted to discuss them at the public inquiries to which the noble Lord referred.
My Lords, one must face the fact that the central issue in all the major inquiries we have had in the last couple of years has been the validity of the forecasts provided by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory, and the right of objectors to question the Departmental 793 witnesses about them. Like the noble Lord, I warmly welcome the decision of the Government, announced the other day, to prepare new rules of procedure for these inquiries under the guidance of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, in consultation with the Council on Tribunals. This is a major victory for Mr. John Tyme who represented the conservation society at the Airedale inquiry. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Molson, marred his speech with criticism of the tactics adopted at the Airedale inquiry by Mr. Tyme and his friends. I think it is a pity that this disturbance had to take place before any positive action resulted, but one must bear in mind that it is a very, very long time since the rational arguments have been put to the Department of the Environment, and consistently a deaf ear has been turned to them.
As the noble Lord himself said, representations were made to the Council on Tribunals. I have here a copy of a letter written by the Secretary to Mr. Mick Hamer of the Friends of the Earth, in which they say, and I should like to have this on the record:It appears that the Department of the Environment memorandum H3/75 "—the one containing the forecasts deriving from Mr. Tanner's work—is one of a series of technical memoranda which lay down design standards and assumptions to be used by the Department in drawing up road proposals. The Department regard these as a matter of policy.That was as far as the various people interested were able to get when they took up these matters with the Department of the Environment and with the Council on Tribunals over a very long period indeed. It was not until the objectors lost patience with the lack of action by the Council and the Department that these measures were taken, at the Airedale inquiry in particular.
§ Lord MOLSON
My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, in these matters I have tried to express quite clearly and plainly my pleasure that the Secretary of State for the Department of the Environment is considering these matters. I should not have thought it was a blemish in my speech when I said that in any case I do not approve of disruption of public inquiries.
§ Lord AVEBURY
My Lords, my point is that if it had not been for the 794 circumstances of the Airedale inquiry, I do not think the announcement of the review by the Lord Chancellor, and other advances we have made, would ever have occurred. The Department would have continued to rest behind the statement that these are matters of policy not to be questioned at public inquiries, and the Council of Tribunals, as evidenced by that letter, was not prepared to make a fuss about it and see that the Department reviewed the matter without this action being taken. It is not only by the objectors at inquiries that the forecasts have come under increasing criticism. There have been articles in Town and Country Planning—and I think the noble Lord paid right and just tribute to the work of Mr. John Adams in this respect—in New Scientist, The Times and the learned journals.
But the rule is that the forecasts produced by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory, and this so-called Technical Memorandum which is based on them, setting out how much traffic growth is to be expected over a given period of years, are treated as in integral part of Government policy and Inspectors at these inquiries have, therefore, ruled, so far, that they can only be questioned in Parliament itself. In practice, that means, I am afraid, that no one ever questions the forecasts, because the figures are derived from very complex mathematical formulae, as the noble Lord will be aware, and they are not suitable for discussion in a forum such as your Lordships' House. To illustrate what I mean, I will read out the formula which has been arrived at by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory to give the traffic in future years. It reads: "y "— which is the level of car ownership in any future year— "equals s"—the saturation level— "divided by 1 plus (s—y0) over y0 times e to the minus rs (t—t0) over (s—y0)." I think if people did not rapidly go to sleep as one discussed a mathematical formula like that it would be rather remarkable in your Lordships' House.
If, in so far as I can, I may describe in layman's terms the method, you start, as the noble Lord mentioned, by predicting what is the saturation level of cars per person, and the way you do that is to plot actual data of cars per person at various times against the percentage 795 increase in the number of cars per annum at those dates, and then you fit a straight line between the points by a mathematical process called linear regression, and you find out where the line intersects with the x axis, and that is supposed to give you the saturation level of car ownership.
Unfortunately, this technique gives wildly different results depending on which particular dates you choose for the points that you plot on the graph, and, in the case of our own country, whether or not you include Scotland in the data. The figures vary in the TRRL's latest document between 0.28 cars per person and 0.66—that is in Great Britain—while if one applies the same technique to the data in the United States between 1952 and 1972, one finds a saturation level of 1.23 cars per head of the population. What the TRRL say about that is very significant:It is clearly unrealistic and throws doubt on the validity of the method for Great Britain alone".Nevertheless, one has to have some figure to put into the equation, so what Mr. Tanner and his colleagues have done is to go back to the 0.45 cars per head of the population, not because it is the outcome of any of these linear regression analyses that they have undertaken on this occasion, but because it was the outcome of previous calculations of a similar type, going back, I think, to 1962. It was thought convenient to leave the figure unchanged. In other words, the calculation was unnecessary and one might just as well have picked any figure out of thin air. Nevertheless the 0.45, which is absolutely central in calculating what the traffic levels will be in any future year, is the figure that is repeated as sacrosanct and not to be questioned at public inquiries.
The next factor to be estimated is the distance that will be travelled by all these cars when the saturation level is reached. Here we are given another complicated formula, which I will not read out, but it relates the number of kilometres travelled per car to two variables: the growth in the gross domestic product and the number of kilometres of motorways. They give, as the central estimate, of the growth of GDP, 3 per cent. per annum from 1973 onwards, and there are high and low alternatives of 2 and 4 per cent. 796 I think there is an interesting sentence that I could quote from H3/75 about these central forecasts, that they:derive from an underlying GDP growth from 1973 onwards of 3 per cent. per annum in perpetuity ".Nothing grows in perpetuity. There are physical limits to everything and in a finite planet if you continue the growth in GDP at 3 per cent. per annum you will ultimately use up all the physical resources of the planet, and it would not be very long before that happened. This, I think, is a totally unrealistic assumption, particularly when we have great difficulty in this country in achieving a growth rate of 2 per cent. per annum. For those who advocate growth I think this assumption represents the triumph of hope over realism.
The result of the calculation is to show that in the year 2000, with more than twice as many cars on the roads, each of them is going to be doing 11 per cent. more mileage than we do nowadays. On freight I will summarise the projections: the average capacity of lorries will increase from 7½ tons in 1972 to 13 tons in the year 2010; the distance travelled collectively by all the monsters together will increase from 19.8 times ten to the ninth kilometres in 1972 to 37½ times ten to the ninth kilometres in 2010. What this means is that if maximum lorry sizes are not increased, then nearly every vehicle is going to be the size of today's largest juggernauts, and each of them will be doing nearly twice the mileage of today's vehicles.
The next point I want to touch on is how the estimates look in terms of the one year which has elapsed since they were produced. I agree that this is not a very realistic test, but for what it is worth the addendum to Technical Memorandum H3/75 says:Users will observe that higher growth rates are to be expected from 1974 traffic levels than from those of 1973 ".Therefore, it is relevant to see what is happening currently in terms of the volume of traffic. As the noble Lord, Lord Molson, has said, registrations have not been going up; they have been static. The number of vehicles licensed in the last quarter for which figures are available, given in the Monthly Digest of Statistics, relate to August 1975, and show that there has been no growth at all 797 during that 12 months. If one looks at the amount of consumption of motor spirit, which is an indication of the mileage, the present number of Energy Trends, for January 1976, shows that there has in fact been, from January to November 1975, compared with January to November 1974, a decline of 4.3 per cent. in the volume of motor spirit used. So that, far from the rate of growth accelerating in the post-1974 period, in the one year for which we have figures available it is actually going in the reverse direction.
My Lords, Dr. John Adams, who was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Molson, in discussing these figures and the methodology behind them, rightly makes the distinction, the very important distinction, between traffic forecasters' opinions about what is likely to happen to motor traffic and the task of those whose job it is to formulate policy to ascertain what is desirable, and these two things may not be the same. Unfortunately, all Governments so far have ducked that responsibility and treated the growth of traffic as if it was an external phenomenon, like the weather, which is absolutely uncontrollable by Governments.
What I think is the most glaring omission from any of these forecasts made by TRRL is any evaluation of the possible consequences of traffic restraint, whether by physical means or higher fuel prices. If our life in this country is not to become a hell on wheels, then that must be part of the equation. I think also that in a democratic society people have to be given the opportunity of expressing a choice between perennial increases in material consumption, however impossible that goal may be, and other values such as freedom from noise, freedom from pollution, and from the death and destruction which has been wrought in our society by the ever-increasing number of motor vehicles. It is these matters which objectors want to be able to raise at public inquiries and which I hope the rules will allow them to do.
May I conclude by saying that I heartily endorse the plea made by the noble Lord, Lord Molson, that in formulating these rules the Government should consult with interested parties, and I hope that, in addition to the Council for 798 the Preservation of Rural England, the noble Baroness will give us an assurance that the Conservation Society will be brought into those discussions.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Lord POPPLEWELL
My Lords, I promise my noble friend that I shall not take many minutes. I want to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Molson, for putting down this Question in order to allow some discussion to take place. I do not want to follow the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, in the statistical formula that he has explained so far as the Road Research Laboratory is concerned and how they arrive at the estimate of this traffic. However, I want to make a plea that when these inquiries are held the objectors should be given more opportunity to question the decision of the Road Research Laboratory so far as the increase in traffic is concerned. Some formula ought to be found whereby the Inspector holding these particular inquiries—and I am thinking more of motorways than the by-passing of towns, or anything of that description—ought to be able to consider what alternate routes are available, particularly for long distance traffic.
We have seen the large growth taking place with long distance traffic, and we are finding that the cost of building extra motorways to deal with this type of thing is now reaching astronomical proportions. I saw in one account that that 18 miles of new motorway which is to be built towards Wales, or in Wales, is going to run at a cost of £3 million per mile. These are fantastic figures. If the Government want to carry out their pledge, which we understand they would like to do, for more open government wherever possible, this is one of the means—these particular inquiries—where every facility ought to be given for objections to be put forward based upon the growth of traffic, as distinct from environmental and other matters that now come within the purview of the Inspectors.
I share Lord Molson's view regarding agitators at inquiries. None of us likes it at all. We detest this type of thing. But so far as the Aire Valley position is concerned, the body making the objections and scenes there are not the type of loose objectors or agitators we find elsewhere from time to time. They are the 799 very responsible inhabitants of the area. The 10 postponements which have had to take place so far as that inquiry is concerned, and the new terms of reference with a completely different Inspector taking it, indicate that there has been merit in some of their objections. I think that this has to be fully borne in mind. In my opinion it is regrettable that this agitation kept on so long, and that there were 10 different postponements and then ultimately an abandonment. It indicates that the objectors have had very real grounds in some way or that particular inquiry would not have been abandoned and a new Inspector appointed.
In so far as growth of traffic is concerned, we are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for pointing out the statistical and mathematical way in which the Road Research Laboratory arrive at the volume of traffic. But from a practical point of view, while the figure is given for the growth and development of these particular motorways, what do we find? We find with the advent of these speedways, motorways, that within the passage of a few years the original figure of traffic growth taken into consideration when agreement to build the motorway was given very quickly becomes obsolete, because a new development of that description we find generates its own traffic. We very quickly find that there has to be some new thinking. This emphasises in particular my point about long distance traffic, that alternate means of travel ought to be considered—rail travel, waterway travel, or something of that description.
It will be interesting to hear the observations of Dr. Gilbert, the Minister of Transport, promising this White Paper on Transport. This White Paper has been promised for such a long time one wonders when exactly we are to receive it. I sincerely hope that it may be fairly soon. I hope that that White Paper is going to represent Government views so far as this transport service is concerned, because transport is not an industry; it is a service. It cannot generate its own traffic, it depends on someone producing the goods and then transport gives the service of carrying them to their distributive points.
800 Therefore, this White Paper must take into consideration what the suggested economic growth is likely to be. Although there may be some difficulty at the present moment, all the trends appear to show that we are likely to grow out of the present stagnant period. We all hope that we may do so. We hope that the Government estimate of economic growth over the next two or three years may come about, but that carries with it the additional burden of providing a service to deal with the goods which are produced. In these inquiries due weight ought to be given, and evidence taken, by the Inspectors regarding alternate routes, as distinct from taking up so much arable land, disturbing housing, and producing other environmental difficulties. One is indeed suspicious when we have these road construction units working in the way they are doing. Of course they have the remit for developing the road, and probably work on the formula suggested by the Road Research Laboratory. But we find that no account is taken of the alternate services.
One has heard of this difficulty at the Airedale Inquiry. This particular first section of that developing 35-mile route along Airedale was at an estimated cost —an outdated estimate cost at that time —of somewhere in the region of rather more than £2 million per mile. I think the four routes suggested vary between £93 million and £96 million, plus the addition for the feeder road services. We must not forget the disturbance that will have to be met consequent upon houses being pulled down, people having to be rehoused and noise difficulties having to be overcome. I hope, therefore, that in the new paper on transport all these matters will be taken into account and that some remit will be given to those who will be appointed to go into these problems so that they may give consideration to these points as distinct from the other issues that have been mentioned.
I appreciate that we are asking for a new departure, for if one considers many of the consultative committees that are attached to transport developments one finds that they have no power to go into, for example, costs and traffic generation. I appreciate that my noble friend Lady 801 Stedman will not be able to reply to these points tonight. I hope, however, that the Minister for the Environment as well as the Minister of Transport will take note of what has been said in this debate. I hope that our remarks will have some influence on them and their Departments towards taking what we feel is a much more realistic approach in accordance with the present-day outlook on these difficult traffic problems.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
My Lords, I wish, first, to thank the noble Lord, Lord Molson, for his comments about the illness of my noble friend Baroness Birk. I will pass on his good wishes to her and I hope that I will have his sympathy tonight in speaking on her behalf at short notice. I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising a subject which gives us an opportunity to dispel some of the widespread misunderstandings about the road inquiry procedures. As your Lordships will know, and as has been referred to tonight, we are now reviewing these procedures and I am sure we shall find scope for improvement. No system can claim perfection, but I am equally sure that we should not undervalue the basic strength of the present system merely because we can see room for improvement. I should be very unhappy to see it replaced by any system which discouraged the ordinary objector, who may know little or nothing about the technicalities of road construction or design, from presenting the arguments that he believes the Secretary of State should consider before taking his decision.
Particular attention has been drawn to the guidance we give to Inspectors at such inquiries. It might well be asked why Inspectors need any guidance. Should we leave them to form their own judgment of the issues on which they should hear evidence or of the form in which they should present their findings? I have no doubt that the majority of the very experienced men or women on the independent panel from which the Inspectors for road inquiries are drawn, could do a very good job without them. Indeed, in the last analysis, the Inspectors must decide for themselves what is or is not relevant to the particular case under inquiry. Rules cannot cover everything.
§ Lord AVEBURY
My Lords, the noble Baroness says that the Inspector has to decide what is relevant to the 802 particular inquiry, but the Inspectors have been particularly told in the notes of guidance that they are not to permit questions on traffic forecasting. This is the whole point that we are trying to discuss.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
My Lords, if the noble Lord will bear with me he will find, I think, that I cover that point later on. As I was saying, the rules cannot cover everything. We demand and get such a high standard from those appointed to the panel. But there are areas of difficulty which arise from time to time on which we believe guidance can be useful. One of these is about the evidence of future traffic and the need for the road. The guidance we issue on this point can be found in the notes of guidance, and a copy of these has now been placed in the Library of the House. In the section covering the limits of relevance, we draw Inspectors' attention to the Department's policy statement, which is normally circulated to objectors before the inquiry.
This statement defines those policies for which Ministers are directly answerable to Parliament and which would therefore be inappropriate for consideration at the public inquiry. These "policy" issues include the allocation of resources between different transport modes and the Government's decision to meet some of the expected traffic growth by investment in road building, the general assumptions which the Government make about the availability and price of fuel for road transport and about the future growth of the economy and the broad effects which the Government expect these factors to have on traffic growth, and the design standards which are appropriate to various ranges of traffic volumes and speeds.
Your Lordships will be aware that pressure has been growing recently to allow these issues to be debated at public inquiries. There is a great deal of resentment that Inspectors are advised to resist discussion on them. Some objectors feel that, without the power to challenge national policy, their arguments against the particular road proposal are powerless. This is not the case and, to refer to another important section of the notes of guidance for Inspectors, noble Lords will see that it is not. In the section concerning recommendations, the notes say that Inspectors' recommendations 803 should do one of three things; advise the Minister to make the order as drafted, to make it subject to modifications, or not to make it at all.
The factors the Inspectors will take into account cover a wide range, from technical details of construction to the impact on housing and the countryside and to suggestions for different routes. Arguments may be put forward that insufficient attention has been paid to, for instance, the potential of an existing railway line, the imminent closure of a local industry or the planned development of a new one. The local authority may have plans for coping with traffic growth in its area which maybe relevant to the termination point chosen for the road. Any Inspector's report will show how comprehensive this examination in public can be.
But public inquiries are not intended to take the place of Parliament. Objectors, even the Inspector, may not believe that a particular national policy is right. Freedom of thought and speech is, after all, his right as a citizen, but a public inquiry is not the proper forum for this type of discussion. National policy cannot be made and remade at every single inquiry and it would be absurd if it could. The public inquiry system would lose its main strength, which is to give the opportunity for exhaustive discussion of the decision which the Secretary of State can take. This decision is not whether the Government should invest in roads but whether or not the particular road under inquiry is really justified. The evidence brought out at the inquiry and examined by the Inspector is of crucial importance here, as cases demonstrate. In 1973 and 1974 there were 31 inquiries into line and side road proposals. As a result, 12 major and three minor alterations were made to the line proposed and 10 major and 13 minor alterations to side road proposals.
I have already referred to the question of future traffic as one area where public inquiry debate will not always be relevant. Perhaps I might expand briefly on this point, before I turn to the information we provide, a point which noble Lords have also raised. I accept without question that the amount of traffic we expect to want to travel in a 804 particular corridor is of crucial importance to the kind of road that we provide. We already have a national road system of over 2,000 miles of motorway and other high-quality road. If there were no future traffic growth we should have to cater only for those parts of the road system which cannot cope adequately with existing traffic. But all the evidence we have suggests traffic will continue to grow, at least during this century. If we are to provide adequately for this future traffic, we must make broad estimates of the extent and pattern of the growth we may expect. These are the national traffic forecasts which were revised last year and which your Lordships will know are to be covered in the consultative paper that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State hopes to publish shortly.
I do not profess to understand or to be able to translate the mathematical formula referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. I am grateful for his explanation and I hope that, when I read it tomorrow in Hansard, it will be clearer to me what they are getting at. However, I am advised that the saturation figure of 0.45, which noble Lords seem to think is too high, was arrived at by using a variety of methods, not just by comparison with American experience. Our estimates of saturation level are consistent with those for other European countries and, for highway planning, we use forecasts for only the next 15 years and not for the year 2000 or whenever saturation level will be reached. On the question of economic stagnation and the other figures referred to in Cmnd. 6393, we used the Treasury's most cautious estimate of our future economic growth in our traffic forecasts. The central forecast of growth in the GDP in Cmnd. 6393 is 3.4 per cent., which is considerably higher than the 2.5 per cent. on which we have based our predictions.
We have had some comments on the rules of procedure. These are to be made by the Lord Chancellor and they relate to the procedures in connection with local inquiries. The proposed review which the Department is now carrying out is much more broadly based and will include all the procedures in connection with the making of draft schemes and orders under the provision of the Highway Acts. There has been consultation 805 with other Government Departments and with representatives of local authorities which hold similar inquiries. It is not usual for other bodies to be consulted before the Lord Chancellor formally consults the Council on Tribunals, but if the CPRE or any of the conservation societies have any suggestions to make, I am sure that they will be welcomed by the Department of the Environment and we shall see that they receive just consideration. I can give that assurance.
The implications of the latest cuts in public expenditure will be covered in the forthcoming consultation paper on transport policy and, like my noble friend Lord People well, I look forward to a very early publication of that paper, for which we have been waiting a very long time. A Question was asked in the other place today of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State about the registration figures being down. My right honourable friend replied that the basis for those figures will be published as an annex to our transport review policy. If we can be proved to be wrong, he has undertaken that we shall be willing to change them. He has given that assurance if people can prove that the figures have been wrongly based.
I do not think even the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, would argue that there will be no traffic growth. The critical question of course is how much there will be. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has argued that the current economic situation and the cuts in the road programme set out in the Public Expenditure White Paper of 19th February invalidate the assumptions we have been making about future traffic levels. I do not intend to enter into a detailed explanation of our forecasting methods at this late hour. As I have said, we shall be covering them in the forthcoming consultative paper, and we have taken a much more jaundiced view than the Treasury's more optimistic figures. However, there are two points I should emphasise. First, we welcome discussion. That, surely, is the best way to develop the best methodology. Forecasting anything is difficult and traffic forecasting is more than usually so because of complex variables that have to be taken into account. The current methods have been developed and discussed over a considerable period of time.
806 Secondly, I think that it is possible to put too much emphasis on the effect which new roads can have on traffic growth. Of course, the existence of a good road system will have some effect on people's desire to travel. There is some relationship between mileage travelled and miles of road available. But so far as we can see, the main determinant is economic growth. So, while a complete halt to road building might have some effect, I doubt whether the same will be true of the reduced levels of building now in prospect.
I have said that I believe discussion is useful. But I do not believe that discussion involving, as it must, both detailed technical argument and broader discussion of the population and economic assumptions from which these general factors are derived can be of use either to the Inspector in making his recommendation or to the Secretary of State in taking his decision. National forecasts must be discussed and settled nationally. This does not mean, my Lords, that we would attempt to exclude discussion of the particular traffic forecasts used for the road proposal under inquiry. The national forecasts can give us only a very broad picture of trends in traffic growth over the country as a whole. It would therefore be quite wrong to apply them without question to every area of the country. Local conditions may considerably affect actual growth in a particular corridor. As I have already said, objectors may well put forward a case, and the Inspector may accept, that the forecasts presented by the Department in support of their proposal have not paid sufficient attention to some particular local factor. The Inspector will, in those circumstances, expect the witness to be able to justify the traffic figures used.
Finally, I should like to deal with the question of information. I have already mentioned the review of inquiry procedures which we have in hand. One of the points we shall be looking at here is precisely the adequacy of the information we provide. I believe that this is, if anything, still more fundamental to our road planning processes. If objectors are not given enough information we cannot expect them to produce valuable arguments to which the Department may have not given sufficient weight. Having said that, I must say that the information the 807 Department now provides is pretty impressive. Before a trunk road inquiry opens, all objectors are given a statement explaining the general background of national transport policy and the main objectives of the Government's road building and improvement programme; and a further statement explains the purpose which the new road is intended to serve within the framework of the national road system and goes into some detail about the route and its effect on the environment. The second statement is no one-page affair. The statement for the recent Airedale inquiry consisted of 16 foolscap pages and three maps.
I know that some people have criticised the Department for not giving objectors more information about the other parts of the road system which may be affected by the road proposal. A new motorway is designed to take traffic away from older, unsuitable roads and, clearly, traffic patterns on other roads which serve as feeders to the new road may be affected. The problem here is exactly where to draw the line. In some cases there maybe a variety of other influences at work on these other roads which would make the task of separating out the precise effect of the new motorway quite impossible. In other cases the relationship may be quite clear. I think the answer here must be to use common sense. If a new road proposal seems likely to have a direct effect on other roads in the locality then, clearly, this is a consideration which the inquiry will wish to take account of, just as it takes account of the road's effect on the landscape or whatever. I am conscious that this last question, like traffic forecasts, which I have already touched on, deserves more time than I can give it this evening in the context of the noble Lord's Question. I am, however, grateful for the many points noble Lords have made. I am sure they will be helpful in our review and I hope I have made it clear that the Government's main concern, like that of the objectors, is to see that the final question on any road scheme takes account of every relevant factor and not simply of those which one section of the community may think important.
I am very conscious, as a latecomer to this field, that I may not have 808 answered all the points as fully as noble Lords would have liked. I give an assurance that I shall read Hansard tomorrow and, if I have failed, I shall write to noble Lords individually in much more detail where I have not fully replied to their points.