HL Deb 19 December 1985 vol 469 cc897-900

11.30 a.m.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what progress they have made in constructing bypasses to remove through traffic from towns and villages on the national road network, and what further plans they have.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, good progress has been made and continues to be made in the provision of bypasses. Between 1st April 1979 and 1st December 1985 Her Majesty's Government completed 60 bypasses and relief roads in England, 20 in Scotland and 13 in Wales. Also at 1st December 1985 there were 31 such schemes on the national road network under construction and a further 213 in the forward programme.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

My Lords, in thanking my noble friend for that helpful reply, may I ask whether he does not agree that as this is the last Question from the Back Benches before the festivities I should wish my noble friend and all on the Front Bench and in all parts of the House a happy Christmas?

Will my noble friend confirm that we are putting enough resources into the national programme?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his yuletide felicitations and we reciprocate them from this Bench.

With regard to the national programme, Her Majesty's Government intend to invest £744 million on new construction in the national network in Great Britain. In England for 1984–85 the out-turn on capital spending had increased by about 30 per cent. in volume terms since this Government took office in 1979, and we intend to see that the present momentum is maintained.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, does the Government not agree that in putting into practice this admirable policy of making bypasses it is necessary to pay some attention to economy in the use of land? Bypasses often pass through valuable land. Does the Government not agree that the verges very often seem to be unnecessarily wide? Is this due to a national regulation or is it the fault of the local planning authorities?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I cannot answer the noble Lord specifically but my understanding is that it is part of a national policy and that the verges are necessary for the maintenance of the carriageway itself.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that none of these new projects will go through a national park?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I cannot assure the noble Baroness on that front because, as she knows, there is one project that House has lust considered, at a place called Okehampton which the noble Baroness knows well, and we are awaiting Royal Assent later today.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, on the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, on the width of verges, can my noble friend confirm that fairly wide verges on these roads are essential, in the event of snow, in order to make snow clearance possible?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for giving a better answer than I did.

Lord Underhill

Does the Minister not recall that the provision of bypasses in the towns and villages on the trunk and primary roads was part of the Armitage package dealing with heavy lorries? Does he not also recall that in 1983 both the Civic Trust and the county council survey showed that about 70 per cent. of those towns and villages were not bypassed? About half of those will not be by passed until 1991–92 and there are no plans whatever for the other half. Can the noble Earl tell me whether there has been any change since then?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the fault that they were not bypassed lies in the dramatic reduction in the capital spending undertaken by the last Labour Government. As I said, we have increased by 30 per cent., in England particularly, in volume terms, and we are now spending a record amount of money on bypasses. This year 84 miles of new motorway and trunk road have been opened; that is 23 more miles than last year. As the noble Lord knows, the Autumn Statement increased spending by 10 per cent., 14 per cent. and 19 per cent. respectively on the 1985–86 period.

Lord Underhill

My Lords—

Noble Lords

Lord Hayter!

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I want to follow up this point. I refer to 1991–92 and beyond. If the Minister cannot tell me now, will he write to me on the possibility of clearing up that outstanding 70 per cent. of villages and towns that are not bypassed?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I gather that there are 240 towns of special historic interest in England, of which 147 have been bypassed and 72 have bypasses planned. The remainder will be considered in the light of that.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, while I accept that my noble friend has some ground for satisfaction on the progress that has been made, will he, before he disappears under a wave of pleasure for what has been done, please apply his mind to the immense delays which are involved in our horrible, costive and congested statutory procedures? Far from just ensuring fairness to everyone, too often they afford an opportunity for tedious and tiresome objectors simply to make use of procedures from which it is hard to see any benefit flowing.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I will certainly pass my noble friend's remarks to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. While under the glow of what we have done, I can assure my noble friend that although our planning procedures may be rather slow many of our schemes are being completed ahead of schedule—as he will know from the opening of the M.25 junction today.

Lord Hunt

My Lords, further to the question raised and the noble Earl's answer on the construction of roads through national parks, or otherwise, can he confirm that in designing roads which will bypass towns his right honourable friend the Minister for Transport will in future do so only after the closest consultation with the Secretary of State for the Environment, in view of the environmental interests concerned?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I believe there is very close co-operation between the two Secretaries of State at the moment. As the noble Lord will know, the Whiddon Down stretch just before Okehampton has been taken out of the national park. This is of great benefit and shows that we are trying to solve this problem.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether in drawing up contracts for the construction of bypasses and motorways there is an incentive to complete the work on time? For instance, there is the opening this very day of the M.25/M.4 crossover connection six months ahead of time. Does this provide a bonus for those engaged in it? Are there penalties if the contractors fall behind the target? Is it not a good idea to include incentives and penalties in contracts to give every encouragement to get on with the job?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I think it very much depends on the contract involved. On road maintenance as my noble friend knows, we have in the very recent past made tremendous progress on incentives and we are looking at ways in which this can be taken forward.

Lord Broxbourne

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether the standard forms of contract are in use for these purposes, and in particular whether the ICE conditions of contract are used?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, as I understand it, they are, but if I am wrong I will write to my noble friend.