HL Deb 27 March 1990 vol 517 cc729-32

Lord Hunt asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will take steps to improve co-ordination of their environmental policies in pursuance of their commitment to environmental protection and in the light of their decision to construct a bypass through Twyford Down, an area of outstanding natural beauty.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, protecting and enhancing the environment is a major feature of the Government's road building plans. The joint regional offices of the Departments of Environment and Transport ensure full co-ordination of the environmental aspects of scheme design. A series of measures to enhance the environmental treatment of schemes has recently been announced.

The decision on the M.3 Winchester bypass was taken jointly by the Secretaries of State for Environment and Transport. It will improve the environment by removing the existing Winchester bypass to restore a link between Winchester and St. Catherine's Hill.

Lord Hunt

My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for that Answer. Will he accept my realisation that a most difficult problem was posed for his right honourable friends? However, given the nature and scale of the damage that can and has been caused by the Department of Transport's road infrastructure programme in terms of the countryside and air pollution and given also growing public concern for the environment, together with the Prime Minister's explicit support for green policies, does he agree that it is desirable to review and perhaps revise existing road transport development, particularly in regard to sensitive areas which are governed by circulars issued about 13 years ago? Does he further agree that it is desirable that fresh consideration should be given at Cabinet level to effective co-ordination of environmental policy as a whole?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, the last part of the noble Lord's question is outside the scope of what I can helpfully say to the House today. But I certainly take note of the noble Lord's remarks. I confirm that the Government are well aware of the need to take fully into account environmental issues when planning motorway developments. As to the M.3 decision, I can tell the House that the overall plan will restore more downland habitat than is taken by the motorway. Indeed, there will be a possible net gain to the area of the SSSI.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, notwithstanding the considerations mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, many who live in Hampshire regard this decision as both inevitable and right if proper use is to be made of the motorway with traffic concentrated on it and not dispersed over the countryside?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I can only agree with my noble friend.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, the noble Viscount said that the Government's road plans are part of their environmental policy, or words to that effect. How does he reconcile the plans for a widespread increase in roads that have been announced with the Government's apparent approval of the necessity to limit carbon dioxide emissions, which are bound to be increased as a greater number of automobiles use the roads?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, that is another question. I said in my original Answer that protecting and enhancing the environment is a major feature of the Government's road building plans. When building roads, we make sure that the environment is protected.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, will the noble Viscount rethink his answer to the supplementary question of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt? He said that it was apparently irrelevant to the Question on the Order Paper. Did not the noble Lord's question relate to the Government's environmental policy in regard to preserving certain parts of the land? Does he agree that what the noble Lord said is strictly relevant to that part of the Question in which we are all interested?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether he was referring to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, or to his noble friend Lord Hatch?

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I was referring to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I thought that I gave a very satisfactory answer.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

My Lords, does my noble friend agree, bearing in mind what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that if the bypass were not built the environmental impact on Winchester and its cathedral would be even greater and the traffic would become more dangerous?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, my noble friend makes a very good point.

Lord Hunt

My Lords, confirming what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, will the noble Viscount accept that the main point of my Question was to inquire about the effective co-ordination of the Government's plans for the environment?

Viscount Davidson

Yes, my Lords. I agreed with the noble Lord that there must be effective co-ordination between the two departments. In this instance there has been.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, does the noble Viscount accept that we on this side of the House▀Łor perhaps I should say the whole House—realise that there are great difficulties and problems about this matter, particularly when the estimates are considered? It costs something like £90 million more to drive a tunnel compared with building a cut bypass. Does he agree with evidence, from newspapers and other sources, of a strong feeling that, rightly or wrongly, there has not been the co-operation between the Department of Transport and the Department of the Environment that he suggested? If there is disagreement, is it not the case that, because of the financial aspect, the Department of Transport wins every time? At this late date will the Minister persuade his two right honourable friends to get their heads together to see whether another decision can be reached? Will he assure us that the decision was based solidly on the environmental issue?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, there is no need to persuade my right honourable friends on that. The decision on this matter was taken jointly by both of my right honourable friends in line with the recommendations of two independent inspectors following two public inquiries in 1985, and 1987 to 1988. My right honourable friends rely very much on the reports of the' inspectors. Both Secretaries of State are in agreement that published proposals should be built in preference to any of the 40 alternatives considered.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, the noble Viscount made a general statement. He told the House that in their road building plans the Government were taking into consideration environmental issues. How are they taking environmental issues into consideration if they are making provision for what I believe is a 140 per cent, increase in the number of cars on the roads?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, that is another question. In this instance I am talking about environmental issues on the ground. However, if the noble Lord wishes to put down a Question I shall certainly answer it.

Lord Hankey

My Lords, are the Government aware that an enormous number of motorists who travel to Hampshire almost every day or fairly frequently will be extremely relieved that the Government have had the guts to reach a decision on this difficult question after such a long delay?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. The original plan was published in 1968–22 years ago. I believe that the House will agree that it is time a decision was taken.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, with all due respect to the noble Viscount, does he not consider that the Question refers to wider issues than the answers that he has given indicate? Does not the Question refer to improving the co-ordination of environmental policies? Does that not imply that the Government should consider environmental policies as part of the overall transport policy? In other words, people should be encouraged to travel on trains rather than putting more cars on the roads.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, the noble Lord refers to travel on trains. That is such a different issue. It also goes far wide of the detailed latter part of the Question which refers to a bypass through Twyford Down.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, that answer is just not good enough. It is not good enough for the House.

Noble Lords

Next Question!

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, the noble Viscount has answered the Question in general terms, but it asks specifically about the necessity for co-ordination of environmental policies. That is what some of us have been asking about. The noble Viscount answered that point and I challenged his Answer. I asked him to explain how it is possible to square the Answer with the co-ordination of environmental policies.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, my Answer was not good enough for the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, but I think it was good enough for the House.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

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