HL Deb 02 March 1992 vol 536 cc565-8

Lord Stoddart of Swindon asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether there has been a deterioration in Britain's motorways, and if so, what steps they intend to take to improve them.

The Minister of State, Department of Transport (Lord Brabazon of Tara)

My Lords, Britain's motorways are maintained to ensure a high level of safety and serviceability. There is no evidence of any deterioration in these respects. Detailed investigation of the underlying strength of motorways in England has revealed that maximum life is not always being achieved, as it can be through timely maintenance work. The problem is being addressed through new survey techniques and improved arrangements for collecting and analysing survey data. Those will allow more effective planning of maintenance operations.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. In spite of what he has said, do not the reports of the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee show a saga of neglect, incompetence and waste as regards our motorways? Is it not a fact that many of our motorways resemble cobbled streets and dangerous switchbacks rather than major highways? Will the Government under-take to carry out a proper emergency repair programme in order to ensure that our motorways are put in proper order?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord is exaggerating a little about Britain's motorway system. I do not say, nor is it borne out in evidence, that there is a saga of neglect, incompetence and waste, or that our motorways resemble cobbled streets. Despite meeting year-on-year targets to keep on top of the required strengthening programme, those targets have proved to be inadequate in the face of faster than expected growth in heavy goods traffic. Therefore, there has been a deterioration in the roads' structure. The Government have responded fully to the Public Accounts Committee report on the motorway section and we aim to increase our maintenance programme in that respect.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, as the Minister who introduced the motorways programme in February 1955, I have been immensely impressed by the way in which the motorways have stood up to the vast increase in traffic? Is he also aware that many of us believe that that reflects great credit on those responsible?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on the part that he played in introducing the motorway network, which has proved to be of inestimable benefit to this country. The growth in heavy goods traffic in particular has exceeded forecasts and therefore there is a necessity to increase expenditure on maintenance. That is why the Government have more than doubled the amount of money spent on trunk road and motorway maintenance since coming into office in 1979.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, are we to understand from the Minister's reply that he has come to the conclusion that there is not a scintilla of evidence to suggest, as have the Public Accounts Committee and National Audit Office, that the deterioration of the motorways represents a saga of poor planning, shoddy construction standards and failure to monitor the state of the motorways, and that the Department of Transport bears heavy responsibility in that regard?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord back to his place. It is good to see him. Of course, I do not welcome his question as much as I welcome his presence but he will understand that. As I said, to describe the motorway system in terms used by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, is an exaggeration. I do not pretend that there is not a need for increased maintenance of motorways. That is why we have more than doubled expenditure on motorway maintenance.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, is my noble friend in a position to tell us what progress is being made on the movement of the bridge across the M.4?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I had anticipated that there might be some interest in that particular operation. Of course, the department is sorry for any delays that have been caused to traffic. The operation has been most complex and technical and it has always been recognised that there might be unexpected problems. Other methods of demolishing the bridge would have been most difficult too. My best information is that the motorway is likely to be reopened this afternoon.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, even at this late hour will the Government reconsider the decision to drive a motorway through Twyford Down in view of the great importance of the site? Even at this last minute will they do something about that?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am afraid that that is another Question.

Lord Geddes

My Lords, following on the question asked by my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham, will the Minister advise the House of the load-bearing specification of that section of the M.4 just east of the Severn Bridge and whether the removal of the bridge—not the Severn Bridge—is likely to cause any deterioration in that section of the motorway?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, my noble friend asks an extremely technical question to which I do not have the answer. The planned method of demolishing the bridge was carefully considered alongside other methods of removing it. The method chosen was found to be the best way of doing it.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his kind words on my return. I am sorry that he does not like the question that I asked. However, will he not be gratified to know that very shortly my colleagues and I will not be asking questions but will be answering them from that side of the House?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I do not wish to have an angry exchange with the noble Lord on his first day back. I hope that that does not happen. I do not believe that it will. If it does, the noble Lord risks inheriting the motorway programme which we inherited in 1979. Government spending then was half that which is now spent in real terms.

The Earl of Selkirk

My Lords, as regards the roads in Scotland, will my noble friend look at the road from Prestwick to Glasgow and the roads leading to Skye along the west coast of Inverness? They are in a terrible state.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, my noble friend may correct me if I am wrong, but I do not believe that those roads are motorways. If they are not motorways, they fall outside the scope of this Question.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, have the Government considered installing street lighting on all motorways in this country?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, lighting is an interesting matter as regards motorways. Lighting is installed on motorways when the predicted night-time accident savings due to lighting outweigh the installation and future maintenance costs, taking account of possible environmental effects.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, the Minister accused me of exaggeration. Will he tell that to the people who live alongside the M.27 who are bombarded by noise day and night? Will he also tell that to the motorists who have the prospect of 30 per cent. of lanes being cordoned off in the next five years?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, as I say, a programme of maintenance is being undertaken at present. There are always good reasons for sections of motorway being cordoned off. However, under the Citizen's Charter it is our policy to make absolutely certain that only the minimum necessary amount of motorway shall become cordoned off.

I remind noble Lords that in 1988 we reviewed the standard of motorway construction. New motorways built under those standards should not need to be overlaid for at least 20 years and there should be no need for their reconstruction for a further 20 years after that.

Viscount Cross

My Lords, I must apologise because my question also concerns motorway lighting. Does my noble friend agree that the best investment which could be made in regard to motorways on road safety grounds would be to illuminate all unlit sections of motorways throughout the country as soon as funds become available? Is he further aware that, by doing that, he would, first eliminate the headlamp dazzle from the opposing carriageway; secondly, he would turn night into day and therefore reduce many accidents which take place in the hours of darkness; and, thirdly, the heat from the lighting would dissipate fog, which my noble friend will know, unhappily brings about many accidents?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, in answer to the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, I referred to the criteria which the department uses in deciding whether or not to light a particular stretch of motorway. If my noble friend is interested in this subject, I refer him to an article published in the Journal of the Institution of Highways and Transportation in 1987 which deals fully with that matter.

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