HL Deb 17 May 1993 vol 545 cc1531-4

2.52 p.m.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will postpone their proposal for up to 14 traffic lanes between junctions 12 and 15 of the M.25 until the schemes they have subsequently announced for speed restrictions and other traffic management measures affecting the same stretch of road have been tried and evaluated.

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

My Lords, the experimental variable speed limits proposed for a section of the M.25 are intended to smooth the flow of traffic. They will not, however, provide a long-term solution to congestion on the motorway or provide the additional capacity urgently needed between junctions 12 and 15. We have proposed link roads for this section of the motorway and, following public consultation, hope to announce the way forward shortly.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, I am obliged to the Minister for that Answer. I am sure that he is aware that the original £150 million proposal called forth objections on a very large scale. The closing date for objections was more than six months ago and we still await a draft order which may then he the subject of a public inquiry. In view of the expense, the controversy and the threatened devastation, both urban and rural, would it not make sense to wait and see whether these experiments, which themselves are costing millions of pounds, go some way towards meeting the problem of congestion for perhaps two hours a day, which is all that the problem involves?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, when the noble Lord speaks of expense and inconvenience, I know that he will bear in mind that the M.25 is perhaps the largest bottleneck between Scotland and its markets in Europe and that it is a problem which needs addressing urgently. That part of the M.25 is taking twice the amount of traffic that it was designed for. It is probably one of the busiest motorways in Europe, carrying over 200,000 vehicles a day. There is desperate need for additional capacity. That need is forecast at something like 30 per cent. to 40 per cent. required to accommodate the traffic. The slowing down of traffic to prevent bunching, on all the evidence which we have from Europe, would account for only 5 per cent. to 10 per cent.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether the statement in the Question that it is proposed to introduce 14 traffic lanes on this road is accurate, and, if so, why?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the motorway will remain the same size. What is proposed is that there should be adjacent roads to the motorway to help relieve some of the local traffic which is at present using the motorway. It is interesting that the M.25 in particular is used as a local road as well as a motorway and that over 60 per cent. of vehicles leave at the second exit after joining it.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, would it not he better for the Government to have a comprehensive transport strategy and to use the kind of money involved to encourage freight to go by rail from the North of England to the Channel Tunnel rather than to go round the London périphérique?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the noble Lord knows of the steps which we have taken to encourage freight to go not only by rail but also by sea. The fact is that almost 90 per cent. of the internal movements of the people of this country are done by car and that situation will continue for a very long time.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, as a member of a listening government, is my noble friend aware of the growing body of opinion that to spend a projected billion pounds widening the M.25—which will certainly not solve the long-term congestion on that motorway or anywhere else, as Los Angeles has shown—is a poor use of public resources either in terms of the opportunity costs or in terms of the very real problems which the Chancellor has with the public borrowing requirement?

The Earl of Caithness

No, my Lords. I take the reverse view. The return from widening the M.25 in order to reduce the bottleneck which causes so much inconvenience to business is well worth while and is something which should be undertaken.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, the noble Earl confirmed, in a slightly tortuous way, that the Question is correct in saying that there will be 14 lanes, plus, no doubt, hard shoulders. Can he explain more clearly whether it is proposed to go ahead with the original scheme without troubling to wait to discover whether the money spent on the other plans shows results?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, all the evidence that we have shows that being able to reduce the speed at which traffic moves around a motorway improves the traffic flow by about 5 per cent. to 10 per cent. As regards the M.25, the problem facing this country is considerably greater than that. The scheme, which will be put forward as a result of the consultation, is something which I cannot forecast because we are still considering it.

Viscount Cross

My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that the M.25 has been a great success in that it has kept much through-traffic out of central London? Does he further agree that the proposed lanes for local traffic will be of great benefit to local residents? I may be wrong, but I visualise a three-lane road similar to the A.4 (the Great West Road) but without the traffic lights. Perhaps I may also congratulate the Minister on this far-sighted proposal which, by relieving congestion on the M.25, will enable that road to fulfil the purpose for which it was built.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am extremely grateful for the support which my noble friend has given the Government on this issue. There is certainly a problem. I believe that the proposal for link roads will be of benefit to the local community.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that the idea of the M.25 was that it would solve all the problems of the London area? We now have another projection from the Ministry—no matter how well it is couched—that we are going to need 14 lanes. Will we not end up with adding more and more lanes until there is a complete circle of 14 lanes on the M.25? I understand that the scheme will cost £144 million. Does the Minister agree that the Government should begin to look at other methods of handling this situation, for example, by encouraging public transport rather than through continual expansion which eats into the green belt and causes pollution?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to draw attention to the much wider problems which the question of traffic flow poses. As he will be aware, we are considering that at the moment. I hope that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will make an announcement shortly.