HL Deb 20 October 1992 vol 539 cc640-2

3.17 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the main contract for the construction of the M.3 Winchester bypass has been awarded, and when work will begin.

The Minister of State, Department of Transport (The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, the main contract for the construction of the final section of the M.3 near Winchester was awarded to Tarmac Construction in September. The formal start of works under the contract was yesterday, 19th October. The work is expected to take about two years to complete.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for that excellent piece of news. Was my noble friend as pleased as I was to note that during the Recess the European Commission admitted it was wrong in this matter and that the British Government were right? Therefore, work on this important piece of new road can now go ahead. Does my noble friend agree that while the Commission may have a role to play in environmental matters that cross national frontiers, such as pollution of the sea or pollution of the air, it should have no role to play in what is purely a domestic matter such as the construction of this particular piece of road?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I understand the mood of the House on this sensitive issue. I am sure the House agrees with my noble friend; that is, we were delighted to note the result of further work undertaken by the Commission when it realised that it was wrong and that the British Government were right in the case brought by the Commission against the British Government. It is right that the Commission should seek to enforce on a uniform basis the rights it has, which are to ensure that the requirements of the EC directive on environmental assessment have been properly applied. This section of the route has now been considered for over 20 years and there have been four public inquiries. There can be no question but that the environmental assessment had been carried out long before the Commission considered this matter.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, does not my noble friend agree that at this time of difficulty in

the construction industry the public sector can often receive good bargains as regards tenders for construction projects, such as this bypass? Is that the case as regards the Winchester bypass? What was the tender price and what was the initial estimate? If, as I suspect, the tender price is lower than the estimate, will my noble friend pass that information on to the Treasury?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I can assure my noble friend that the information has already been passed to the Treasury. We estimated the cost to be some £36 million for the scheme. In fact the contract price is £25.8 million. The total cost of the scheme as a result of all the environmental and other works that need to be carried out will be about £40 million.

Lord Erroll of Hale

My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House whether protesters are still on the site of the works?

The Earl of Caithness

Yes, my Lords. I can confirm, alas, that there are still protesters on the site but appropriate measures have been taken to remove them. I am sure that the whole House will condemn the action of the protesters and the environmental damage which they are causing to an important part of the countryside. We wish to move a rare piece of turf out of the line of the road to an adjacent area and the activities of the protesters are severely detrimental to that piece of ground.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the current weather conditions will ensure that the protesters are even wetter than they were before?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, some are forecasting a very hard winter.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, can my noble friend indicate the cost to the country of the delay and the legal costs resulting from the commissioners' incorrect judgment? Does the Commission have a fund out of which the taxpayers of this country could be repaid for that additional delay and would that be a worthy use of the commissioners' pension fund?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I shall certainly bring the second part of my noble friend's question to the attention of the appropriate Minister and perhaps even the Commission itself. On this occasion, because of the thorough work which we had undertaken and the public inquiries and environmental impact assessments which we had undertaken, very little cost was involved because we had all the information which the Commission requested from us. Once the commissioners saw that information and had time to read it they realised that we were right and they were wrong.

The Viscount of Oxfuird

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that we have finally reached a stage in this matter whereby the principle of subsidiarity has been achieved?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, my noble friend is right. It is quite right that we should ourselves decide where our roads should go and have the right to take decisions on various other matters relating to the transport industry. Of course subsidiarity is one area in which we are making a great deal of effort in the European Community at the moment.