HL Deb 03 May 1990 vol 518 cc1131-3

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

In view of the delays to road traffic which result from the uncoordinated activities of organisations exercising powers to excavate public roads, whether they are considering taking powers to control and co-ordinate the exercise of such powers with a view to minimising the disruption to traffic.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, the Government attach high priority to the introduction of legislation which will reduce disruption by providing for better co-ordination and management of statutory undertakers' works.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that very encouraging reply. Is he aware that no one can accuse the Government of undue haste in this matter, in as much as the original discussions—according to my recollection—began in December 1955?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, we live in hope. I can assure my noble friend that the Government recognise that there is widespread support for early legislation and we attach high priority to its introduction.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, does the noble Viscount appreciate that, while we understand his remarks, we regard them as unsatisfactory? The public utilities want action; the highways authorities want action. We have been told time and time again that the Government recognise the need for legislation. When are we to have a definite undertaking either that legislation will be pushed through this year or that the Minister will raise the matter with his right honourable and honourable friends in the other place to obtain an undertaking that legislation will definately be introduced next year?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I do not think the House expects me to give an undertaking at this stage. I can inform the noble Lord that the department has worked out detailed arrangements in conjunction with the utilities and local authorities. Codes of practice on diversionary works, reinstatement specifications, training, signing and guarding, notification and co-ordination are substantially complete. However, it is most important to maintain the impetus in order to avoid long transitional periods before implementing the new arrangements.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that in the hash-up in London—which heaven knows is bad enough—services repairs which require the digging up of roads are a major contributory factor? There are as many as 200 per kilometre per annum in the city. There are modern techniques by which these repairs could be carried out without breaking the surface. They need to be encouraged by legislation which puts the emphasis the right way. Is my noble friend aware that that would make a major contribution to reducing the traffic hold-ups in London?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I am well aware of that. I can inform the House that the proposed legislation will lead to improved co-ordination of works especially where computerised street works registers are used. It will also result in better and speedier reinstatements.

There will be more one-pass reinstatements rather than a temporary reinstatement followed by a permanent one, and new performance standards for reinstatements for which utilities will become entirely responsible. Highways authorities will have the power to designate as traffic sensitive the streets where works are likely to cause severe disruption, and to prescribe hours of working. Highways authorities will be given powers to designate protected streets which can be kept free of utility apparatus.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, if the noble Viscount has drafted the Bill, when will he put it down for First Reading?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, we are always prepared.

Lord Wigoder

My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that during the past few months the two main routes through the City of London to this House—that is to say, the Embankment and the Strand—have both been under substantial repair simultaneously? May not that have been a contributory factor in the many defeats of the Government during that period?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I cannot quite see the connection. It depends who is using those routes when coming to this House.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, will the noble Viscount care to remember that excavations by public utilities are only part of the story? The blocking of main roads in central London by enormous tower cranes mounted on crawlers over the weekends also brings traffic to a standstill.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I am aware of that.

Lord Young of Dartington

My Lords, does the Minister accept that there is a need for much more general and purposive co-ordination of road transport, not only on this matter? That applies especially in London, which the Government have deprived of any all-London local authority with responsibility for transport, roads and many other matters.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I am aware of that and I know that my right honourable friend is also aware of it.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, the Minister has told us about taking certain action. Can he inform us how many government departments and local authorities will have to be consulted and persuaded that they should act in unison? Can he advise us roughly how many there are?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I can advise my noble friend that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is having discussions with local authority organisations at this moment. They are all being consulted and are extremely sympathetic to the proposed legislation.

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