HL Deb 14 December 1989 vol 513 cc1415-26

4.12 p.m.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, with the leave of the House I should like to repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport about new initiatives to relieve traffic congestion in London. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a Statement about new initiatives to relieve traffic congestion in London. My proposals are being published today, together with separate consultation papers setting out my provisional conclusions on the four London assessment studies. I am placing copies in the Library.

"The economic boom of the 1980s has had a dramatic impact on London. Population, employment and incomes have all grown and demand for transport has exploded. There is every indication that this trend will continue. We have to provide for planned commercial and residential development; and proposals for the transport systems will in turn be an essential element in the development plans which the London boroughs are preparing.

"Last month I announced our plans to transform London's public transport systems. Over the next three years London Regional Transport plans to invest a further £2.2 billion on modernising and upgrading its systems. This includes work on the extension of the Jubilee Line to Docklands. Subject to further work, I expect that a Bill for a new line to relieve congestion in central London will be deposited next year. Network SouthEast plans to spend a further £1.2 billion over the same period to improve its services for London's commuters.

"It is clear that public transport will always play the key role in moving people in and out of central London. But congestion on the roads must be tackled too. We are improving the quality and capacity of the trunk roads wherever possible. But we must make the best use of existing roads. Our aim is to keep traffic flowing as freely as possible. The discussion document I am publishing today brings forward new proposals for traffic management and parking control.

"First, I propose a 300-mile priority route system—red routes. Stopping, loading/unloading and parking will be severely restricted. A pilot scheme will start next summer to establish the best way of implementing the proposal. I shall begin the necessary discussions with local authorities and the police immediately.

"Secondly, a consistent and businesslike approach to the management of these major routes is essential. I propose legislation to establish a Traffic Director to ensure the coherent development and operation of the red routes. The Traffic Director would not replace the existing highway authorities but would have a co-ordinating role on these routes, with appropriate reserve powers.

"Thirdly, I strongly believe that the fixed penalty level for illegal parking on the red routes and possibly elsewhere in London should be increased. The Government will consult representative organisations on possible legislation and the appropriate level of fine.

"Fourthly, new traffic management guidance will aim to ensure that yellow lines are strictly confined to places where they are needed. Drivers must be convinced that where there are such restrictions they are needed and will be rigorously enforced.

"Fifthly, effective enforcement of traffic and parking regulations will be a key element. The police and traffic wardens will remain responsible for enforcing parking bans. The role of the traffic wardens will be enhanced. They will be given powers to authorise removals and wheel-clamping. Local authorities would take on the control of parking at meters and residents' bays, allowing traffic wardens to concentrate their efforts on the red routes and the more serious offences.

"We also need to go on improving the road system. We already have a substantial programme in London. This is geared mainly to upgrading the North Circular and improving access to Docklands and East London. One of the most notorious bottlenecks is the Blackwall Tunnel, and so I am announcing today my decision to add to the programme a scheme for a third tunnel. There will also be a review to see whether another crossing is needed between the Blackwall Tunnel and Tower Bridge.

"Turning then to the four assessment studies, these have been detailed and intensive studies. They have looked at a range of public transport, traffic management and road improvement measures on a comparable basis. They show that public transport improvements are needed but cannot by themselves solve the traffic and environmental problems however much we invest in the rail systems. Road improvements are necessary to increase the efficiency of the system, to reduce accidents and to take traffic out of residential areas.

"The consultants looked at a large number of options. They have narrowed these down to two or three recommended options in each area. Most of the major new roads they considered have been eliminated. Even so, they have recommended some schemes which I do not consider should be pursued further. These have been ruled out. I am only prepared to go forward with new road schemes which will bring significant overall benefits, taking full account of the environmental effects. I have selected for consultation a number of ideas for new public transport projects and a limited number of new road schemes, mostly to improve existing roads.

"New proposals for the transport systems in London will be vital to securing environmental improvements and creating opportunities for new development. In preparing proposals my department will therefore work closely with the Department of the Environment, local authorities, transport operators and the police.

"Copies of the consultants' reports will be available at public libraries and town halls in the study areas and will be sent to representative local organisations. Free leaflets setting out the consultants' main findings and recommendations will be circulated widely, together with a statement of the department's initial views. This will set out clearly the options that have been rejected and those on which comments are invited.

"It is now nearly 18 months since the consultants first published their options. There has never before been such wide and open consultation on transport studies. But I am very conscious that it has caused great uncertainty. I am now determined to end the uncertainty, to reach early decisions and to remove the threat of blight as quickly as possible, I am therefore asking for comments by 28th February.

"Any schemes entered into the national road programme will have to go through the full statutory procedures, which provide for public inquiry. The amount and timing of any additional expenditure would be for decision in the Public Expenditure Survey in the usual way.

"Mr. Speaker, these proposals, with those for the Jubilee Line and the Central London Rail Study and the massive investment in Network SouthEast, show that this Government have a balanced approach to London's transport problems. The measures I am announcing today, together with those I have brought forward in recent weeks, will give our capital city the improved transport system it deserves, and I commend them to the House."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.19 p.m.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Viscount for repeating the Statement. Frankly, it is almost a non-Statement. It contains many words but few positive proposals which we can grasp. Reference is made to the consultation papers and the four assessment studies. An envelope was placed in my hand about 20 minutes ago, the contents of which, frankly, I have not read. I do not therefore know what is in the consultation papers or in the assessment studies. I do not blame the noble Viscount for that, but this is the kind of procedure that we have raised on numerous occasions. By itself the Statement does not convey the full impression of what is being done. We need to read the other documents as well and to have them in good time.

On the first page of the Statement—I am sorry that I cannot refer to paragraph numbers because we do not have them—the Secretary of State says: Subject to further work, I expect that a Bill for a new line to relieve congestion in central London will be deposited next year". Does that refer to the reference to the Jubilee Line in the previous sentence or is a new line being proposed in addition to the Jubilee Line extension? Exactly what proposals from the Central London Rail Study are being adopted?

The next sentence refers to Network SouthEast planning to spend an additional 1.2 billion. Can the noble Viscount say whether there is any truth in the report in the press recently that the Government will reduce the public service obligation grant to Network SouthEast? If so, what will happen to fares and what effect will it have on commuters travelling into London?

It is stated that: Public transport will always play the key role in moving people in and out of central London". On page 3 it is stated that public transport improvements are needed. The Statement does not indicate what improvements in public transport are proposed. All noble Lords will agree that until there is clean and efficient transport that arrives on time we shall not see much additional use.

Baroness Phillips

And comfortable transport.

Lord Underhill

And comfortable transport, as my noble friend says. I do not wish to begin a discussion on congestion in London because we have had a debate on that, but I must make those points.

There are proposals for a 300-mile red route system, which may be satisfactory when we know exactly what they will be. There is no reference to that. Presumably one has to read the various documents. We have been assured that three-quarters of the traffic in London is on local roads. That also applies to other parts of the country. Therefore the problem of local road congestion is equally as important as the red routes. I note that discussions will take place, but until we know the exact form of the red routes it is difficult to comment on them.

Legislation is proposed to establish a Traffic Director. What relationship will the Traffic Director have to the highway authorities? That proposal does not relate to a London-based strategy. We do not have such a London-based strategy organisation. Does it mean that the Department of Transport will take over as the strategic body of London Transport, appointing a director and deciding exactly what will happen? There is no positive statement on that.

The new traffic management guidance may be satisfactory if we knew exactly what was proposed. We are told that the aim will be to ensure that yellow lines are strictly confined to places where they are needed. Who will determine such places? I can speak of many places where yellow lines are not enforced because of the inadequate number of traffic wardens. If people ask for an example they can come to the area of the Epping Forest District Council where I live and see the situation. I completely agree that: drivers must be convinced that where there are such restrictions they are needed and will be vigorously enforced". I believe that the reference to enforcement is possibly the most important factor.

There is no reference to buses operated by one person, and whether that system will be extended or stopped. Most people believe that we ought to cease the operation of such buses in central areas. There is no reference to bus lanes, traffic restraint, street works or the possibility of the introduction of legislation on the Horne Report—a matter about which we have been talking almost for years and which we raised recently with regard to another matter. Is it not important to deal with those issues in connection with London Transport?

I do not know what timing is proposed with regard to the additional crossing and the additional third tunnel. We were told earlier that expenditure and timing would depend on the expenditure review. Shall we have to wait for many years? What will be the cost basis? I believe that many noble Lords will be concerned as we were told on a previous occasion that the cost of these improvements will be passed on to the passengers. Once one starts to pass costs running into billions on to passengers, instead of taking cars off the road we will add more cars.

We then come to the four assessment studies. I have not been able to read them; I do not know whether they are good or bad.

I thought that the noble Lord the Chief Whip was saying that I was taking too long.

Lord Denham

My Lords, I would not have said so even if I had thought it, which I did not.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I am very pleased about that because this is a quite lengthy Statement, of five pages.

The cost of the assessment studies was £10 million. We are told that many of the proposals are being disregarded. That may be right because the consultants were considering far too many options. That aroused considerable public concern. In the Statement the Secretary of State says: I have selected for consultation a number of ideas for new public transport projects"— it would be interesting to know exactly what those are; they are not mentioned in the Statement— and a limited number of new road schemes". Again except for reference to the North Circular road scheme and one other there is no reference to what the new road schemes will be.

Will copies of the consultation papers and the consultants' reports be available for noble Lords in the Printed Paper Office? The Statement refers to them being available in the Library, but that refers to the House of Commons.

The Statement says that, It is now nearly 18 months since the consultants first published their options". Since then about 180 local groups in London have become extremely worried about the various proposals. Until we read the consultant's final reports and the parts which the Secretary of State has adopted, we will have no idea whether he has adopted the good parts or those about which there is considerable concern. Both the London Boroughs Association and the Association of London Authorities were extremely concerned about the general tenor of the first report of the consultants which laid down their possible options. In the penultimate paragraph it states: The amount and timing of any additional expenditure would be for decision in the public expenditure survey in the usual way". I have referred to that issue already. We should like to know exactly what the time factor may be. We are also told that the consultation documents are being circulated for replies by 28th February. Knowing the concerns of the London boroughs, and in view of the Christmas break for local authorities, is that not asking too much of local authorities? While we want speedy action, I am certain that the local authorities require time for proper consultation. If we are to consider red routes and various ideas for traffic management, there must be opportunity for detailed consideration. I recognise that the final decision should be taken in time for the local government elections.

Although there may be some encouraging words in the document, it looks as though each area has studied the position in isolation. There is no general base for a strategy for London because there is no strategic traffic authority in London. That is obviously a considerable liability. What consideration is being given in these proposals to combining traffic management, traffic development and road development with land use? It seems that such issues are excluded from the document. While the Statement may contain useful, encouraging words, until we have had consultation on the details and until we are able to consult on the proposals, we remain very concerned.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I also thank the noble Viscount for repeating the Statement in this House. I find it a somewhat mind-boggling task to address myself to a complex Statement at such short notice. I shall not repeat the points that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, has made. However, I am a little worried about some of the language in the Statement, which appears to suggest that there are plans to transform public transport in London.

Admittedly a fair amount of money is being spent on modernising and upgrading. However, that includes extensions to the Jubilee Line which will mop up a large amount. That line is the least cost-effective that could have been chosen. So far as we know, it has been chosen because it goes to Canary Wharf and will receive private funding and not because it is the most useful line to relieve congestion in inner London.

Reference is made to public transport playing a key role in moving people in and out of London. Again, one asks the question: if good public transport is necessary to solve the problem where is the money which will pay for that and will people be able to get away from the squalor which now exists on the Underground and the buses?

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, referred to the passage in the Statement about a new Bill providing for a new line to relieve congestion in central London being deposited next year. I wondered whether that referred to the crosslink line, which I understood had been put on the back burner. If this is an indication that the line is to be brought forward that is greatly to be welcomed. The east-west and north-south lines would make a great contribution towards relieving congestion and getting people out of their cars and on to public transport.

One gives a qualified nod of approval to the suggested red route on a short-term basis while public transport is improved. To what extent will the disabled be exempt from the provisions of the red route if the penalties and controls are to be stricter on double yellow lines? Will disabled people be able to park in the red route areas, and if not what will happen to them? Although not a large number of disabled people will be in difficulty as a result, it is important on an individual basis if they are being forced away from places in which they need to park.

I noticed that there will be a significant change in the role of traffic wardens. They will be given powers to authorise removals and wheel clamping. I do not object to that, provided that they are properly trained to do so and that their standards are brought into line with those of the Metorpolitan Police. In those circumstances I believe that no one will complain. However, I then see that local authorities will take over the control of parking at meters and residents' bays. What provision is being made for local authorities to obtain the necessary finance in order to take on that onerous task while the traffic wardens concentrate their efforts on the red routes?

As regards the third Blackwall Tunnel, I should like to know whether it is to be publicly or privately funded. Obviously, it is too soon to comment on the assessment studies, but, like the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, I am sure that 28th February is too early a date on which to expect serious comments to be placed in the hands of the Department of Transport. Friends of the Earth has said that people will need five months to consider the studies, but that may be at the other extreme.

We all recognise the dangers of planning blight in this situation. But, on the other hand, people who are likely to have their homes removed because of the contents of the assessment studies which we have not yet seen are likely to want a period of time beyond 28th February in order to make proper representations. I also understand that the studies cost £40 each. Therefore, individuals who may feel that their homes are in danger may be reluctant to spend that amount of money but may be forced to do so.

I understand that the Traffic Director will be confined to the red route. That appears to me to be a curious appointment. As the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, has said, it is, important that we have overall traffic direction in London and overall traffic management. It is time that the Government reconsidered the setting up of an overall highway authority for the London area so that these extremely complicated matters can be co-ordinated on a sensible basis.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Underhill and Lord Tordoff, for their qualified reception of what I consider to be a first-class Statement. Documents referred to in a Statement are not always available at the same time as the Statement. I apologise for the fact that they may be a little later than normal, but perhaps it was not fully understood that the Statement would be repeated in this House.

The discussion document on initiatives to tackle the problems, together with the consultants' reports and the Department of Transport's initial views and requests for comments on the four assessment studies, are now available in the Library and will be in the Printed Paper Office. Most of the answers to the questions which have been asked are to be found in those documents. I do not propose to comment on questions about matters which were not contained in the Statement.

The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, raised the question of the cost of the reports. In the Statement my right honourable friend said that copies of the consultants' reports will be available at public libraries and town halls in the study areas and will be sent to representative local organisations. Free leaflets setting out the consultants' main findings and recemmendations will be circulated widely, together with a statement about the department's initial views.

The assessment studies involved a very high cost. They were extremely detailed and looked at a wide range of options. Some were rejected for further consideration and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has rejected a few more. However, the department's view of the assessment studies is that the documents now contain only half the original number of proposals for further consideration. Therefore, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State considers that the two months until 28th February will be a sufficient period of time for these matters to be considered. Schemes for consultation are identified in freely available leaflets.

As regards the red routes, my right honourable friend sees the need for a coherent set of controls over the main routes. Controls need a unique identification in order to make drivers aware that special conditions apply. We wish to see traffic on those routes flowing more easily. That will improve safety, efficiency and the environment. Again, that is a matter for further consultation with local authorities and the police. The Government's strategic approach to transport in London is as set out in the Secretary of State's Statement about transport in London made in January 1989.

The new line referred to in the Statement is in addition to the Jubilee Line. It arises from the central London rail study. Further work will show which line, in addition to the Jubilee Line, should be pursued.

As regards the Traffic Director, we do not see the need to create a strategic transport authority. Therefore, the responsibilities of local authorities, transport operators and others are clearly understood. The Traffic Director will be appointed by the Secretary of State, working to his objectives. It is proposed that his main function will be to ensure that local authorities introduce priority routes on their roads in a timely and orderly way. Once the network is established it is proposed that he will ensure that it is managed in accordance with my right honourable friend's objectives and maintained to an appropriate standard. It is also proposed that he should encourage better co-ordination of parking controls off the main routes.

The third tunnel at Blackwall will replace the existing substandard northern tunnel. It will help the development of Greenwich peninsula and reduce long peak-hour queues. The aim is to start work in the mid 1990s but that depends on detailed engineering and the availability of funds. It will cost about £130 million at current prices.

As I said earlier, I believe that it would be well worthwhile all of your Lordships studying the documents which I have with me now. I should tell the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, that I only received them shortly before I repeated the Statement and have not yet had time to study them. However, from what I have seen of them, I believe that they will provide answers to most of the questions raised.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I give a general welcome to the Statement which my noble friend repeated to your Lordships. Let me say at the outset that it is a limited Statement. It is the expression of a new initiative. I believe that that is what we have been looking for, particularly in terms of road congestion in London. That is to be welcomed.

I was disappointed that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, described it as a non-Statement because it cannot be that. If we are to make progress towards improving the movement of road traffic, whether goods or passenger traffic, then we must regard the roads as the highways for movement and not for parking, stopping and so on. It is the initiative and provisional conclusion—and I think that those were the words used by the Minister when repeating the Statement—of the four assessment studies that some 300 miles of priority routeing should be designated for the movement of road traffic. I very much welcome that and that the fact that a Traffic Director for that specific scheme is to be appointed as a liaison officer.

I should like to raise with my noble friend the question as to what exactly are the reserve powers which are to be dedicated to that director, but I am not asking him for an answer this afternoon. I should be quite happy if he would write to me about that.

I want to touch very quickly on two other points. As regards the consultation period, we have been talking about confusion and congestion in London for years and years. All kinds of ideas have been put forward and those who have taken part in those discussions will recognise that the period until the end of February is quite adequate to give confirmation to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State's provisional conclusion or to make changes. Therefore I do not quarrel with that.

I ask my noble friend whether or not he agrees that he has today announced a number of measures which, in the short term and some in the longer term, are initiatives to alleviate—and not totally to conquer—the chronic congestion in London caused laregly by parked vehicles impeding free flow? Will he also say that these measures are not to be the only measures for consideration by his department in the future to make an even more significant impact on the problem in central London?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for his warmer reception to the Statement. This is a strategic approach to improving traffic and transport conditions in London. The feature of the approach is to make the best use of existing roads and cause the least demolition of housing and so on. The priority routes also aim to make the best use of capacity. We are continuing works programmes to eliminate stress points and bottlenecks on trunk roads and to use new technologies to improve London's traffic-light systems to reduce delays. What we have said about parking, wheel-clamping and towing away will be necessary on those routes in order to keep the traffic flowing well. Therefore, there must be a strong deterrent to stop people parking on those 300 miles of red routes.

Lord Ardwick

My Lords, many of us who live in South London or in South-West London have felt anxious about the Statement today. Our houses have been blighted for 18 months or more. We hoped to learn today which houses are permanently blighted and which houses can now be relieved from blight. However, I am afraid that only from a study of the documents will it be possible to get some knowledge of that.

The Ministry has always had in mind for many years the idea of a south circular road to match the North Circular Road. Three of the four assessment studies dealt with the south circular road. I ask the noble Viscount whether the Government have entirely dropped the idea of a south circular road. Can we breathe again on that?

I should also like to ask the Minister what is the scope of the improvement to the new roads? Will the enormous road widening schemes entail the knocking down of thousands of houses which line those routes?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, as I said, I have not had time to read the documents but I can tell your Lordships that in principle the purpose of my right honourable friend making the Statement today is to reduce uncertainty and the effect of blight. My understanding is that knocking down houses is the last thing that we wish to do. Existing roads will be used and improved as much as possible, but the details are in the document and the document is still there for discussion.

Lord Elton

My Lords, as one who is sometimes a passenger on public transport and the rest of the time a motorist in London, this is an extremely welcome Statement and seems, on consideration, to contain a great deal of meat. Given that the recommendations of the consultants have apparently been published for 18 months, I do not believe that there is a great deal of hesitation in calling for early consultation. However, your Lordships might be somewhat reassured if my noble friend could tell us whether the routes eventually chosen, where they are new routes, will be subject to any planning procedures or whether they will simply result as an edict from the Department of Transport.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, as regards trunk roads, procedures will be under the Highways Act which will of course include public inquiries where necessary. For local roads, the ordinary planning procedures will be followed.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am sure that that is reassuring.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, to the extent that the Statement which we have just heard and the supporting documents recognise that there is a serious traffic problem in London, it is undoubtedly to be welcomed. To the extent that it summarises proposals which have already been made and adds a number of new ones, it gives us a good deal of food for thought. However, what perplexes me, as has been mentioned by my noble friend Lord Tordoff and others who have spoken, is the problem of how this will all be co-ordinated.

When we debated the wider issues of transport last Monday—and the noble Viscount responded to that debate—he said that he agreed with the views of Sub-Committee B that in Britain we should have a positive and concerted transport policy. I do not quite understand why there should be a director-general for the priority routes and I cannot understand what happens to the other routes. Is it not conceivable that if we have traffic flowing freely through the priority routes, that will merely add to the congestion on other routes? Who will take care of that?

Therefore, while I welcome the document as recognising the problem and for mentioning a number of matters which have been brought to our attention—some previously brought to our attention and some new ones—I ask how this will effectively be brought together?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, my right honourable friend wants the authorities with existing responsibilities to work together for the common good. He will provide the strategic framework within which the local authorities and organisations can work. As I have already said, the proposal is to appoint not a director-general but a Traffic Director for these red routes, with a small staff to help with the necessary co-ordination. So far as the local authorities are concerned, there is a proposal that they should review yellow lines so that they are normally provided only where parking would cause an obstruction or hazard to safety. Again, as I said, these matters are still open for consultation and discussion.

Lord Strathcarron

My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that the Cromwell Road will be a red route, thereby preventing the ice cream vans from parking on double white lines for long periods without anybody seeming to care about them? With any luck, they will not be able to do so in the future.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I shall have to write to my noble friend about the Cromwell Road. I have the map in front of me, but I cannot at this moment say whether it will be one of the red routes. If it is one of the red routes, I can assure him that the ice cream vans will not be there.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I wonder whether I may just indulge myself for a second and ask for clarification on the answer the noble Viscount gave on the additional rail link. Will it be an underground link and part of the Underground system or will it be a British Rail link?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I am afraid that I do not have the answer to that question. I shall have to write to the noble Lord.