HL Deb 01 April 1987 vol 486 cc668-80

9.11 p.m.

Lord Hardinge of Penshurst rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they accept the necessity for major road works between Hastings and Hythe in view of the fact that the A.259 has been preferred as the main trunk route between the Channel Tunnel and the towns of East Sussex, and in particular of the need to by-pass Dymchurch and St. Mary's Bay as well as New Romney.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is with some humility and after much thought that I have decided to press this question. To some extent this is a specialist field and some of the greatest experts in the land are at work on it. I refer in particular to the passage of the Chunnel Bill itself and also the awesome task undertaken by the group of experts who form the Select Committee of your Lordships' House. But I believe it is justified to draw attention to the needs of a particular large area involving a substantial population. The timing of the question may not be perfect, but it is difficult to see what would have been better. I first heard of this issue in June last year. It is now April 1987—nine months later. I am told that it is possible that the Select Committee may still be hearing evidence for a long time. So, perhaps it is as good a time as any.

I must express my particular gratitude to noble Lords who have put their names down to speak this evening. All their contributions will be important and at least two noble Lords are rather expert on transport, which I am not. There is a lot of interest in, and support for, my Question in East Sussex apart from noble Lords who will speak tonight. My noble friend Lord De La Warr is concerned and although he is not here to speak tonight I think your Lordships may hear from him at some time during the passage of the Bill. My noble friend Lord Chelwood has taken the greatest interest and trouble and, despite illness, has been in touch direct with the Minster about the matter. He would certainly have spoken had it not been doctor's orders that to do so would delay his convalescence. I am quite sure all noble Lords wish most warmly that his convalescence will soon end and he will be back to full health.

My concern in this Question comes from the fact that I have lived in East Sussex almost all my life and never very far from the town of Hastings. Apart from this I have no personal or financial interest of any kind to declare. Before coming to the background of the Question itself, I should like to say a few words about the town of Hastings, which is at the very centre of this particular matter. I am really repeating what my noble friend Lord Teviot said on the Second Reading of the Chunnel Bill. These points will bear repetition.

First, Hastings is not part of the so-called pampered South-East. It has never been a wealthy town and has recently had unemployment figures as high as 20 per cent. As my noble friend said, it has somehow always been a bit rundown. One reason that it has been in part isolated from the south-eastern boom has undoubtedly been the lack of good access roads, but I shall come to that in a minute. My noble friend also made the point that Hastings is one of the most famous towns in the world. It is impossible for anyone anywhere in the world who knows anything at all about European history not to have heard of Hastings. This of course is due to the battle, and the fact that the battle took place somewhere else is neither here nor there. It is called the Battle of Hastings.

I hope that I am not being slow in coming to my Question but these points are all relevant, as is the situation on the A.21. In general we should congratulate the Government on what they have done and what they are doing about roads. It is true that progress is being made, and further progress is planned on the A.21 between Pembury and Hastings. It is clear that progress will be made. I am not offering any criticism of this Government or departments or councils when I say that previous development of the A.21, which is the natural link between Hastings and the M.25, has been snail-like, to put it politely. Indeed, a vigorous snail might take exception to the comparison.

I am much older than the Minister and I have seen all this going on—if those are the right words—since before the war. In the late 1950s I used to ask Neill Cooper-Key, who was then the MP for Hastings, what he was going to do about the A.21. So I have been concerned with this problem for a rather long time.

Therefore Hastings, Bexhill, Eastbourne, Battle, etc. must look for their opportunity in road developments that are consequential on the building of the Chunnel. That is why I have chosen to ask the Government this Question in this particular form rather than try to intervene at one of the stages of the Chunnel Bill, though again I congratulate my noble friend Lord Teviot on his efforts at Second Reading.

That is the preamble and the general situation. I shall now try to set out the relevant details. ESFLAG is the acronym of the East Sussex Fixed Link Action Group. The members of it are East Sussex County Council, Eastbourne Borough Council, Hastings Borough Council, Rother District Council and Wealden District Council. Observers are Lewes District Council and Ashford Council. Their concern is that there should be sufficient access to these places, to the 1066 country, the South Downs, etc. in the event of the Chunnel being built. They have been very modest in what they ask for. They are not shouting for great dual carriageway roads. They just say that they want one good road, or preferably two good roads, linking them to the Chunnel terminals.

Thanks to the efforts of East Sussex County Council and also Hastings Council, I was able to place in the Library a week ago a map that makes this whole Question easier to understand. It is a simple black and white line map. There are in existence some magnificent road planning and projection maps but they are hard to copy in many numbers.

The original thrust of ESFLAG's argument was to stress the need for the Hastings eastern bypass, etc., for major comprehensive improvements on the A.259 east of Hastings to Rye and Brenzett, which is in Kent, and to urge that the A.2070 from Brenzett to Ashford should be trunked and become the main access route between the M.20, which in this context effectively means the Chunnel and the South-East. This is a logical route on the map despite the fact that private cars will load and unload at Cheriton. A powerful consideration was that, while there was a decent road as far as Brenzett, it would be comparatively short and simple to trunk the A.2070 to provide a good road to Ashford and the M.20. It was influenced by the obvious major problems in converting the A.259 east of Brenzett into any form of major road conduit. This road is at present very inadequate.

The Department of Transport press notice No. 562 of 23rd October 1986 makes no mention at all of the A.2070. It is headed "Further Trunk Road Proposals for A.259 corridor in Kent and East Sussex", though in fact—and properly I dare say—it concerns itself more with Kent. Among other things, this notice promises a bypass for New Romney while apologising for the disappointment that may be caused by the absence of plans to bypass St. Mary's Bay and Dymchurch. If I may quote from the words here attributed to Mr. Peter Bottomley: We remain unconvinced that traffic growth estimated for the A.259 justifies reinstatement of these suspended schemes at present". I shall come back to that later.

On 17th December 1986 I wrote to my noble friend the Minister and received a most courteous reply dated 20th January this year. Obviously his letter is important, and I am particularly grateful for the reassurances that it gives about some of these problems and the promise of future government activity. With the leave of the House I shall quote one sentence from his letter: We have explained to ESFLAG in recent correspondence that we do not see any compelling strategic reasons for making the A.2070 the trunk road in place of the eastern section of the A.259 from Brenzett to Hythe and we would only be prepared to pursue this if Kent County Council were of the same view as ESFLAG". But in this particular matter Kent County Council apparently is not of the same view as ESFLAG. If I may again have leave to quote, Mr. John Fassenfelt, on behalf of the Kent county surveyor, wrote to Mr. Roger Carrier, the Hastings chief executive, on 4th February and said (among other things): You mention in your letter the question of trunking the A.2070. This is not something that the county council is pressing for at present". I am not criticising anyone at all about this matter. There is no criticism implied in the Question. It is a question of seeking enlightenment, not of criticising the Government; certainly not Kent County Council or anyone else.

In view of what I have said, it seems that ESFLAG and everyone else must accept the trunking of the A.250 east of Brenzett in preference to the A.2070. The purpose of my Question is to draw attention to the obvious inadequacies of this road at present. In particular—and perhaps I am just being stupid here—I cannot follow the logic of bypassing New Romney but not Dymchurch or St. Mary's Bay. The map illustrates this point and of course I have been to look more than once.

I am not alone in seeking enlightenment on this point. I have read the relevant minutes of evidence heard so far by the Select Committee, which show that Kent County Council also endorses the need to bypass these two towns. This very important information has been confirmed by the Hastings chief executive, as has another important fact: that Shepway District Council is also concerned by the absence of proposals to bypass Dymchurch and St. Mary's Bay. I am aware that in the past the Government have given some answers to this question, but there is still widespread concern.

I have almost finished, but there is just one thing that I should like to say about forecasting in general. There is a bit of chicken and egg about it. If you say there will be no traffic so we need no road, well of course there will not be any traffic. It is self-fulfilling. That is enough of snails, chickens and eggs. We all recognise that this is a serious debate on a serious matter. I again thank noble Lords who will speak. I shall listen with great interest to what is said, and of course to the Minister's reply.

9.25 p.m.

Lord Teviot

My Lords, my noble friend has taken a great deal of trouble and has followed every road to do with this important subject. I shall hardly mention roads at all because he has covered the whole road aspect. The noble Earl who is going to follow me also, I gather, knows quite a lot about roads.

This Question goes a little beyond roads, as my noble friend equally mentioned. The Channel Tunnel is going to make a great difference to a great many people's lives, not only in the county of Kent and East Sussex but in the rest of the country. I shall go on to speak about East Sussex in a moment. It is going to be a trauma for all of us. Some people have supported the tunnel, and some have not. However, it is something that is going to come into being, though others may think otherwise. Let us take it that the tunnel will come here very soon.

Quite properly the Government have had a Kent consultative committee. I do not suppose that they could have afforded a Sussex consultative committee, but East Sussex is in close proximity. I am not speaking as my noble friend did, as a transport expert. He has covered transport so far as concerns roads and there is little for me to say except that I think I can say here that British Rail has been rather outstanding on this matter. It has promised to improve its line between Hastings and Ashford. I shall refer to British Rail later in my short speech. One follows the excellent advice that one has received from East Sussex County Council and the district councils of the organisation my noble friend mentioned.

Apart from roads, my noble friend mentioned that I spoke on the Second Reading of the tunnel Bill, and perhaps made a "funny", or an amusing remark, or whatever, and referred to the town of Hastings. But, as my noble friend mentioned, Hastings is a serious subject. It is a place that has been forgotten for a long time. I do not see why the Channel Tunnel should make any difference to Hastings, but here is an opportunity for an area to have a bit of consideration.

Although there are industries there, if there could be something more (though not too much) to employ in proportion some of the 20 per cent. unemployed, that would be a great thing—not just industry, but even tourism. I think I can speak a little about tourism not only for Hastings itself, which is an ancient town, but for that delightful part of the countryside.

When we speak about tourism and the Channel Tunnel, we speak about tourism from abroad. We are good ourselves at going to the Continent to have short breaks. One would like a little reciprocity from the Continent to here for short breaks in Kent and East Sussex. One hopes that with the Channel Tunnel tourism will increase. If visitors come for a week, 10 days, a fortnight or even longer they can see further sights in Great Britain and enjoy them.

I am sure there will be a time when people will make trips through that tunnel with their motor cars and will want just short holidays and will go to see East Sussex, which has a great deal to offer—not only the town of Hastings, but Rye, and wherever. The noble Earl lives at Hurst Green. I do not know whether he lives in the part of Hurst Green in the parish of Salehurst or in the parish of Etchingham, but there are two typical English villages. There is the small town of Robertsbridge and the church at Salehurst. There is also the magnificent church of Etchingham with its misericords. There is a great deal for people to see. Very soon I shall stop talking. My noble friend spoke largely about roads. I hope I have opened the subject enough to prove that there is a great deal to see in East Sussex.

My last comment to your Lordships is that the Channel Tunnel may give encouragement to other noble Lords to promote similar Unstarred Questions on other subjects. My noble friend has made it worth while for all of us to consider that.

9.30 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I rise to offer warm support from the Opposition for the proposition advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Hardinge, in such an effective fashion. He indicated that out of the five speakers to follow him, two might be regarded as experts on transport. The noble Lord who has just spoken is clearly one of those, but that leaves four others. I do not know who the other one was he had in mind; it was certainly not me.

In many years in the House I have only once spoken on road transport. Then I was on the winning side, ultimately; I joined in the mass protest against the desecration of Christ Church Meadows, Oxford, and that road has never been driven through. I hope that I shall be on the winning side again here. As the noble Lord who has just spoken said, I have a house in Hurst Green, which is perhaps seven or eight miles from Battle. It seems a long way to walk, which I still do just occasionally—more and more occasionally—but I know that walk and it is about twice as far to Hastings. However, I live in that part of the world.

My only credential, which my colleagues here will appreciate, even if no one else does, is that I am president, no less, of the Battle and Bexhill Labour Party. That is an important office. It is a fine body of men and women. They have not yet threatened the occupying power, but we hope to put that right very shortly otherwise I may be evicted from the presidency after so many years of relative failure.

As the noble Lord indicated, I have come into this more out of my respect for him than for any other reason that occurs to me. I have this high regard for him, and as I live there I should have seemed to be rather a backslider if I had not spoken for a few minutes. The noble Lord drove me round the district on Sunday. We spent about two and a half hours on the job so I am much better qualified to speak. I might speak indefinitely after all that; but as he has said it all so well I do not need to say much more.

I realise it is difficult to discuss these things however clearly they are put except against the background of the various excellent maps; but those who are present at the moment and those interested who read Hansard will be able to understand the argument clearly from the maps. I side entirely with those who say that the crucial communications between Hastings and Hythe—to take those two places only as part of the whole issue—should be vastly improved. That is obvious to any simpleton or anyone who is as ignorant of road transport as I am even after a drive round the district with the noble Lord, Lord Hardinge. As I said, the details of this have been clearly explained by Lord Hardinge and I shall not repeat them. I echo every word he said; for the most part with full comprehension. for the rest in blind faith.

Many years ago the great Edmund Burke spoke with so much eloquence that the next speaker, so we read in our history books, a certain Mr. Cruger—not spelt the same way as the president of the Transvaal, Mr. Kruger—could think of nothing better to say when it came to his turn except: 1 say 'ditto' to Mr. Burke. In fact he was so keen on saying that, that he ended by saying: I say 'ditto' to Mr. Burke. All I can do now is to end by saying: I say 'ditto' to Lord Hardinge.

9.35 p.m.

Lord Monk Bretton

My Lords, I also would like to thank my noble friend Lord Hardinge of Penshurst for putting down this Unstarred Question. It gives me the opportunity to say a few words. I think also I ought to congratulate my noble friend upon what I gather was an enjoyable all-party car trip that he organised last week-end. I really want just to dot a few i's and cross a few t's following what has been said.

I wish to emphasise the situation of Hastings, where unemployment is very much the highest in the county of Sussex. I believe the figure last December was 13.6 per cent. I should also like to mention that in the hinterland there is a rural development area. About two-thirds is in Kent and one-third in East Sussex. It was promoted by the Sussex Rural Community Council and the Sussex committee of CoSIRA, to both of which committees I belong, with the backing of the Kent CoSIRA and of the two county councils. So there is no doubt that this is an area where there is a severe problem.

As regards the impact of the tunnel, I believe the informed wisdom in East Sussex is that it is likely to close the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry route. That means the loss of 900 jobs in Newhaven and probably also a loss of tourism owing to the inaccessibility of the area from anywhere else, and the lack of road communications along the coast.

There is no doubt that going eastwards along the coast and arriving at Brighton, one is confronted with a rather interesting choice if one wants to go on to Dover. Undoubtedly it is quickest to go straight up the Brighton-London road on to the M.25, down the M.20 and across perhaps to the M.2. It is a great long trek but probably saves half an hour over any other route.

There are about four other choices that one can make—combinations of bucolic charm and frustration by traffic. Probably the worst choice of route at the moment, until something is done, is to continue along the A.259, the coast road. It is absolutely no good as regards communications with Hastings. One must stress the importance of doing something for the Hastings area in order to prevent further deterioration taking place, as it could so easily do. One has also to consider the support for the tourist industry in East Sussex. I would imagine that the transport authorities have also to consider what needs to be done ultimately about relieving the southern sections of the M.25. I would strongly suggest that there is a good deal to be said for not continuing to deal in a piecemeal fashion with the A.259. Much needs to be done. It is highly desirable that something pretty effective should be in place by 1993 when the tunnel opens.

To return to the Hastings problem for a moment, the destinations for tunnel traffic would, to my mind, be both Folkestone and Ashford. I remain concerned that there is to be no trunking of the A.2070 from Brenzett to Ashford. I am very hopeful that we may hear more about that tonight because I believe, in the end, it will be most necessary.

I realise that there will be residents of Kent with susceptibilities, and I am sorry that there are no noble Lords from Kent speaking tonight. I can only hope that they are not too discomfited by what we are saying. I am afraid there is no doubt that my noble friend the Minister will have to keep a balance if we transgress a little too far. Here we are all from East Sussex, having our say. I hope very much that the Minister might be able to relieve our minds somewhat tonight about the problems in East Sussex.

9.42 p.m.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, I think we should first of all congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hardinge of Penshurst, on raising the question of roads in East Sussex. I should also like to thank the Minister for sending me a map showing the existing and proposed road system in the area. I must pay tribute, as always in matters of roads and traffic, to the Royal Automobile Club and the Automobile Association who have both been most helpful in informing me about an area of the country which could not exactly be considered my own backyard. It is an interesting reflection that when I looked up the map I realised that where I live in Central Scotland is almost half-way between the extremities of the British Isles from Shetland to Hastings. That gives one some idea of just how far it may be from me and also people tend to forget that the country goes a long way further north than we sometimes imagine.

I have been most interested in the comments which have been made. I am absolutely sure that the noble Lord, Lord Hardinge of Penshurst, and my noble friend Lord Longford, who are knowledgeable about the area and also Lord Monk Bretton are familiar with the roads and realise the great problems arising from the shortage of roads in the area. However, I also appreciate the Government's problem of priorities which is always very great. It is interesting that every speaker as well as the wording of the Unstarred Question by the noble Lord, Lord Hardinge of Penshurst, has mentioned the Channel Tunnel and the infrastructure. The point came out during various debates which we had on the Channel Tunnel, and it was made by the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, both on the Second Reading and again this evening that the whole country is concerned about the Channel Tunnel and its infrastructure. Certainly any extra money put into that infrastructure will be looked at very closely by other regions and it will also be closely watched, as I am sure the Minister will be aware, by the ferry operators who feel they are not being very fairly treated.

I think the noble Lord, Lord Monk Bretton, spoke about the difficulties of Newhaven and the possibility of it being almost by-passed or even closing down once the tunnel comes into operation. Although I have been marginally keen on and in fact was at one time very enthusiastic about the tunnel, all these problems are beginning to arise which might make us think twice about the project. The ferry people are really quite concerned. I am sure many noble Lords received the letter from Sealink Ferries. We all know that they have an axe to grind, but they say this: We all know that the planning process for road improvements is tortuous and that governments might say they will make improvements in access to ferry ports, then just hide behind planning difficulties and do nothing.". That is as against the ones to which the Government give a high priority. The Channel Tunnel will go ahead much more quickly and many of the processes will be by-passed.

I am sorry to appear less than totally enthusiastic about the urgency which noble Lords have expressed over these roads. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Hardinge of Penshurst, who probably knows the problem better than us, may be a little disappointed. I am interested in what the Minister's reply will be. It is not that I do not sympathise with the strong feelings about the amenities of the area, but I know that fighting for roads is something with which the Minister will be all too familiar. Every group of people in this House and in another House have their own priorities and it is up to the department to make balanced judgments.

I do not have a great deal of faith in the belief that there is some mystical way, some fundamental scientific way, in which the department makes its assessments of traffic, accident losses and all the other paraphernalia. I have seen too many roads brought on by political expediency or some other reason in both parties to believe that there is any scientific way of making an assessment. The department produces figures—

Lord Teviot

My Lords, the roads in East Sussex and South-West Kent are rather similar to Highland roads. I do not know whether the noble Lord has visited these roads but they are not dissimilar.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, I agree that they have something in common. We were a little lucky in that off the North-East coast of Scotland oil was discovered and there was a sudden readjustment of priorities to accommodate it. In East Kent there is a great readjustment to accommodate the Channel Tunnel which will possibly burn itself out. I wish the noble Lord well in his campaign for road improvements in the area. As I said, I do not want to be too dampening. But I have a little experience of fighting for roads in different parts of the country and in listening to people who are fighting for roads.

I am probably doing the department a great disservice here, but at the end of the day it is like a whole lot of other things. To use the Scottish expression, The greetin' wean gets fed first", and that is what happens, unless there is something overriding, like oil or the Channel Tunnel. But other roads tend to be built according to the political and other pressures which are put on the Government or the department. Therefore, I wish the noble Lord well in his efforts.

9.49 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, let me first say how grateful I am to my noble friend Lord Hardinge of Penshurst for the Question he has asked about the A.259. I also take the opportunity of thanking other noble Lords for their contributions. The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, and I have something in common in that I do not think that either of us has any local interest in the area though I must admit that I once had a great uncle and aunt living in Dymchurch.

This part of the A.259 forms the most easterly section of the south coast trunk route between Honiton in Devon and Folkestone in Kent. From Southampton eastwards, the south coast trunk route consists of the M.27 to Cosham, near Portsmouth, then the A.27 to Pevensey near Eastbourne, and then the A.259 to Folkestone. The A.27 serves a number of important towns such as Havant, Chichester, Arundel, Worthing, Brighton and Lewes, before terminating at Pevensey. From Pevensey eastwards the A.259 passes through Bexhill, Hastings, Winchelsea and Rye and across the Romney Marshes by New Romney, St. Mary's Bay and Dymchurch to Hythe and Folkestone. Some of those towns already have bypasses. Several further bypasses are proposed as part of the Department of Transport's extensive plans for substantially improving the route. The improvements planned are a measure of the importance which we place on this essential part of the national trunk road network.

The standard of trunk routes is determined by the traffic expected to use them. An important feature of the A.27/A.259 route, which has to some extent determined priorities, is that traffic reduces, except around Brighton, the further east one travels. For example, traffic flows in 1985 on the M.27 near Portsmouth were 52,700 vehicles per day; on the A.27 east of Chichester the flow was 24,000; east of Arundel it was 19,000 and east of Brighton it was 25,700. However, west of Eastbourne it was 12,000 and on the A.259 east of Hastings it was about 7,000 vehicles a day.

Until recently, resources in the South-East have been concentrated on major routes of national importance, such as the M.3, M.4, M.20, M.23, M.25 and M.27, although some of these routes have of course helped Sussex by improving access to and from the area. Following the excellent progress that has been made on the major strategic routes, we are now giving high priority to the improvement of the A.27 and the A.259. Prior to the renewed interest in a Channel fixed link in April 1985, to which I shall return, there were seven major schemes on the A.27 and two on the A.259 in the national trunk road programme. The June 1985 review added three further schemes, two on the A.27 and one on the A.259.

I shall not on this occasion detail the progress that has been made on the A.27 schemes. But when completed the nine major A.27 schemes in the current programme will provide some 32 miles of improved trunk road at a total cost of about £125 million at November 1983 prices.

I shall deal with the A.259 section of the trunk route shortly. I turn first to the implications of the proposed Channel Tunnel. The Government are committed to ensuring the adequacy of the trunk road network, particularly in Kent, for traffic to and from the Continent following the proposed opening of the tunnel in 1993. It should not be overlooked that the road infrastructure needs to take account of traffic using both the tunnel and the Channel ports, and that most of the proposed motorway and trunk road improvements are required to cope with the projected increases in traffic with or without a tunnel.

Since the Channel Tunnel came once again under active consideration, a number of reviews of the specific road infrastructure requirements have taken place. It has for many years been the Government's policy that the M.20 should be the principal corridor from London and the M.25 to the Channel ports of Dover and Folkestone, whether or not the Channel Tunnel was built. The Channel fixed link White Paper of February 1986 explaining the choice of the Eurotunnel proposals confirmed the decision that the M.20 should be the principal corridor and the department's intention to complete the M.20 Maidstone-Ashford section, the widening of the Maidstone bypass section of the M.20 from two lanes to three and the improvement of the A.20 between Folkestone and Dover.

In the late summer of 1986, the Department of Transport carried out an assessment of possible improvements along the A.259/A.261 corridor. My honourable friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic subsequently announced in October 1986 that a New Romney bypass (suspended since 1980 along with bypasses of St. Mary's Bay and Dymchurch) would be restored to the active programme and that consideration would be given to a possible A.259 eastern bypass of Hastings. My honourable friend also announced that we planned to detrunk the A.259 between Hythe and Folkestone and to trunk instead the A.261/A.20 route from Hythe to the M.20 at Stanford. In this connection he said that he would consider whether a scheme to improve the A.261/A.20 should be included in the review of the trunk road programme which is currently being undertaken.

My honourable friend also said, with regret, that the bypasses of St. Mary's Bay and Dymchurch would remain suspended at that time, though they would be kept under review.

There has been concern about the suitability of the A.261/A.20 route between Hythe and the M.20 as a trunk road, which my honourable friend Mr. Howard, the Member for Folkestone and Hythe, has drawn to the Government's attention. My honourable friend the Minister with responsibility for roads and traffic has considered whether a scheme to improve this route should be added to the programme in the current review. I am pleased to announce his decision to include it. We shall appoint design agents to investigate and prepare detailed proposals for the improvement. This will include examination of all options, both along the line of the existing road and along new routes.

We need, however, to trunk the route in order to be able to exercise our powers to improve it. The next step will be to publish draft orders for both the trunking of the A.261/A.20 route and the associated detrunking of the A.259 east of Hythe, probably in the summer. These orders would be formally open to objection which would give people an opportunity to express their conerns. Depending on the objections, a public inquiry may be held.

I turn to the A.259/A.261. Our current predictions of traffic on the A.259 indicate that the Channel Tunnel may generate about an extra 1,000 vehicles per day in the year 2008, split between the A.259 and the A.2070 from Brenzett to Ashford. This would not be likely to add more than 10 per cent. to the A.259 traffic there.

We also recognise that there is an alternative route from Hastings which follows the A.259 to Brenzett and then heads northwards on the A.2070 to Ashford, thence via the M.20 to Folkestone. Provision for the proposed Ashford south orbital road is included in the Channel Tunnel Bill. And the Government have offered transport supplementary grant to Kent County Council for this scheme and improvements to the A.2070 at Ham Street and at Ashford.

I note the views of my noble friends Lord Hardinge and Lord Monk Bretton that the A.2070 should become a trunk road. My right honourable friend does not accept that there is any compelling strategic reason for making that road a trunk road either in addition to the existing A.259 trunk road between Brenzett and Folkestone or in place of our strategy of making the existing A.259, between Brenzett and Hythe, and the A.261, following trunking, the preferred route for traffic wanting access to the tunnel terminal at Folkestone. The A.2070 is the responsibility of Kent County Council, which has made no proposal to trunk the road and supports our strategy to trunk the A.261/A.20 route.

I turn again to the A.259 between Brenzett and Hythe and my noble friend's concern that the communities of St. Mary's Bay and Dymchurch be bypassed. Since the conclusions of the A.259/A.261 review were announced in October 1986. Kent County Council and Shepway District Council and others have expressed their concern that the department's proposals for the A.259 do not go far enough. They have made petitions to and appearances before the Select Committee on the Channel Tunnel Bill. In particular, Kent County Council has called for reinstatement in the programme of the bypass schemes to St. Mary's Bay and Dymchurch, and Shepway District Council has asked for further consideration to be given to the possibility of a new trunk road to replace the A.259 which would pass to the north of Rye and link to the M.20 at Stanford. Taking Shepway's point first, my right honourable friend could not, in view of the modest traffic flows, justify providing a completely new route between Rye and the M.20 at Stanford, nor indeed between Brenzett and Stanford.

What my right honourable friend has done, however, is to look again at the possibility of including a bypass of St. Mary's Bay and Dymchurch in the current review of the trunk road programme. He has had to weigh a number of factors. We do not have unlimited resources for road improvements and there are many schemes nationally competing for a place in the programme, as the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, pointed out. We have also had to consider the local aspects of a scheme for St. Mary's Bay and Dymchurch, including the visual impact of a new road 4.2 miles long with a bridge over the railway line, encroaching into Romney Marsh. The marsh itself is designated as an area of special significance to agriculture and contains valuable areas of unimproved pasture. I am pleased to announce that my right honourable friend has decided to add this scheme to the programme and the design agents will take these environmental considerations into account. I hope the exceptional reasons for announcing today these additions to the national programme will be understood.

If I may summarise in conclusion, Her Majesty's Government accept the need to improve the A.259 between Hastings and Hythe and from there via the A.261/A.20 to the M.20 at Stanford. We already have four major schemes in preparation—bypasses of Bexhill and Western Hastings, Winchelsea, Rye and New Romney—to which we can now add St Mary's Bay and Dymchurch and the A.261 scheme. When completed, these schemes will provide some 22 miles of improved trunk road at a cost of about £40 million at November 1983 prices. In addition, the regional programme of smaller schemes includes improvements at Guestling Thorn, Icklesham, Brookland and Brenzett.

Our aim is that these schemes should be completed or under construction by the time the Channel Tunnel opens; but my right honourable friend cannot guarantee that timing given the need for detailed preparation and design and the uncertainties of the highway inquiry procedures. This represents a substantial investment in the A.259, which, even with traffic generated by the tunnel and its associated developments at Folkestone and Ashford, will remain lightly trafficked compared with most trunk roads. Implementation of the present proposals for the A.259/A.261 and for the A.2070 by Kent County Council will mean that East Sussex will be connected to the M.20 by two improved routes east of Brenzett, the choice of route depending on the final destination—by A.2070 to Ashford and the proposed inland clearance depot or the more direct A.259 route to Folkestone and the tunnel. I can confirm that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport will consider very carefully in the current review of the trunk road programme whether a place can also be found for an eastern bypass of Hastings.

Once again I should like to thank my noble friend for raising this matter and I hope that both he and those concerned in Kent and East Sussex will be pleased with the announcements I have been able to make tonight.