HL Deb 30 March 1994 vol 553 cc1086-98

3.43 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to repeat a Statement which has been made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport. The Statement is as follows: I announced in August 1993 that we intended to review the road programme. Today I want to set out our proposals for a revised and prioritised programme that will ensure a more efficient, better managed and speedier delivery of the improvements we need, and which is compatible with the principles of sustainable development. My target was to complete the review in time for it to provide the basis for the new Highways Agency, which is being launched today. The review is now complete and copies of the report have been placed in the Vote Office and the Library. This Government have an excellent record of investment in delivering increased motorway and trunk road capacity, which is so vital to the economic well-being of the country; and in providing bypasses which remove heavy traffic from the centres of towns and villages, with immense benefits to the residents and for their environment. We plan to spend about £2 billion a year on trunk roads over the next three years, which is almost double, in real terms, the level in 1979. Fifty-seven major contracts are currently under construction, and last month I announced our intention to start work on a further 22 major contracts during 1994–95, worth over £1 billion in total. It is, however, worth reminding the House that altogether my department is currently spending 50 per cent. of its budget on roads, which accounts for 90 per cent. of all inland journeys in the UK, and 40 per cent. on public transport which accounts for 10 per cent. of journeys; this demonstrates the importance we attach to rail and urban transport systems. The review does not affect the three-year national roads expenditure plan announced at the time of the Autumn Statement; nor does it cover local authorities' road programmes. It has its origins in the package of measures I announced to deliver road schemes faster. In the past it has taken an average of 13½ years to get from the entry of a scheme into the programme to its opening. I aim to cut this time by up to a third. We are already making good progress. I have recently announced consultation on much-needed changes to road scheme public inquiry rules. The new Highways Agency, aimed at a more business-like approach to the delivery of the roads programme, is also now launched. The most important measure in the package, however, was a review of the national trunk road construction programme with the aim of speeding up the delivery of projects with the highest priority. The review has been the most wide-ranging and in-depth for many years. There was a clear managerial need for establishing priorities. Until now all the schemes in the road programme have been taken forward with the same degree of effort and many of them at the same speed. This does not make the best use of resources; it wastes money and time and creates uncertainty. But the opportunity has also been taken to go much wider. It is no part of this Government's policies to tell people when and how to travel. On the other hand, we must be aware of the consequences, if people continue to exercise their choices as they do at present. There is no realistic possibility of simply halting traffic growth. What we can seek is to bring home its full cost. We must enable people to enjoy access to goods, services and other people while reducing the amount of movement needed to achieve that aim. Increases in fuel duty, and motorway tolling, will help people to make more informed choices about the cost of using their cars. Planning guidance just published will also help reduce the requirement to travel to reach goods and services. But even a reduced rate of traffic growth will not remove the urgent need we face already for new bypasses, wider motorways and safer junctions. The review therefore provided the opportunity to check that each scheme was still essential, was on the proper scale and accorded with the high standards now expected of our road improvements in a way that reconciled the needs of industry and the economy with the needs of the environment. Each scheme in the existing programme has been examined carefully to confirm, among other things, that it produces a high rate of economic benefit in comparison with its cost; that it has the minimum effect on the natural environment; and that its priority accords with the importance of the relevant route to the national strategic road network. The review concluded that most resources should go on the two priorities of improving key routes, primarily motorways, likely to experience stop-start driving conditions in the foreseeable future; and on bypasses. The number of new trunk routes proposed in the publicly-funded programme, particularly those through open countryside, will be reduced still further to a total of six. Major urban road improvements should be very limited in number in the light of the continuing substantial government investment in urban transport initiatives and the priority attached thereto. Schemes for which there was no acceptable environmental treatment, and those whose priority meant they were not likely to be built in the foreseeable future—49 in all—are being withdrawn to reduce blight and uncertainty. Work on them will cease immediately. The new prioritised programme represents a substantial agenda to take us into the next century. It has been drawn up as a rolling programme, which allows schemes to be added to the higher priorities as and when needs become pressing and funding is available. The highest priority schemes will receive the most urgent attention; the longer-term schemes will be taken to the next suitable stage in their preparation, and work on them will then only be resumed as the programme rolls forward. The new Highways Agency is being given specific responsibilities for environmental treatment of road schemes and for reporting its performance in this field. We now employ, in-house and through consultants, a large number of landscape architects and environmental specialists to assess and advise on the best design and environmental treatment of national road schemes. I have therefore concluded that the Landscape Advisory Committee, which has done such valuable work in the past, has been superseded by the skills now available to us. I wish to express my thanks to the chairman and members of the Landscape Advisory Committee for all the work they have done. I turn now to some specific proposals that will be of particular interest to the House. The proposed east-west route from the M.40 to the haven ports has received a special scrutiny. As already announced, work on the A.418 Wing bypass and the A.418 west of Aylesbury bypass schemes has been suspended pending the outcome of a new strategic study from the A.5 to the M.40 in the Oxford area. The central section of the route (A.5 to Stansted) has now been withdrawn from the construction programme because it was unlikely that an environmentally acceptable route would be found. The eastern section of the route from the haven ports to the M.11 and Stansted will still be taken forward, and should remain part of the trans-European road network. The rest of the east-west route will be withdrawn from the trans-European road network in the current revision of the network. The TERN route from the haven ports via Stansted to Holyhead and beyond will in future follow the existing M.11, A.604, A.14, M.6 and M.54 TERN routes. Around Oxford, the two schemes on the A.40—Headington bypass and the north of Oxford scheme—will also be withdrawn from the programme, as will the proposed M.12 new route from the M.25 to Chelmsford. We have also re-examined our proposals for improving the M.25. I have concluded that plans to widen 80 per cent. of the M.25 in the next four to five years to dual four lanes and provide capacity beyond that in the south-west sector are still the only appropriate response to growing congestion. We will therefore publish draft highway orders and an environmental statement for the proposed link roads between Junction 12 and Junction 15 on 7th April. The public will be invited to comment on the proposals. All views will be put before an independent inspector and considered at a public inquiry, probably later this year. Work will also now progress towards publication of draft orders and an environmental statement for link roads between Junction 15 and Junction 16. A public inquiry will follow, probably in 1996. I consider that there will also be a need for capacity beyond dual four lanes between Junctions 10 and 12 in the next decade, but work on this project is still at an early stage and no decisions have been taken on the design. However, as a result of this review, work on increasing capacity beyond dual four lanes between Junctions 16 and 21A will be deferred. I have also decided that two proposed strategic studies in the South East, the Kent-Hampshire study and the M.3 to M.40 study, will not now go ahead. This decision underlines my commitment to minimising the number of new routes. This review gives the new Highways Agency an up-to-date agenda to deliver the road improvements we need most with maximum speed and efficiency. Our motorway and trunk road network needs to be maintained and improved to secure our economic well-being; to secure environmental benefits, in particular by keeping through traffic away from local roads; and to go on improving our already good safety record. The review has had to balance the motoring aspirations of the 1990s' family with the consequences; the needs of industry and the economy with the needs of the environment. I commend it to the House. My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.53 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I first thank. the Minister, in what I know has been a very busy day for him, for repeating the Statement made in another place. Obviously we shall need a considerable amount of time (as I believe he will) to digest the details of so complex an announcement. I hope that he will convey to the Government's business managers the anxiety of the Opposition that inadequate time was given in handing over the Statement to us, particularly a Statement of this nature. I received it less than 30 minutes ago, which was something like 20 minutes before the Statement was made, which really is not good enough.

The Minister has referred to the Highways Agency. Would he indicate how that agency is to be accountable to Parliament?

I wish to turn primarily to the broad issues which have been raised in the Statement. Despite the rhetoric, particularly that about the environment, is it not clear that this policy constitutes a further example of just how purblind transport Ministers are? They seem to be unable to see the need to think of transport policy in its widest sense. They seem to think of it being equated to a roads programme, refusing to recognise the logic of their own statistics that road traffic is likely virtually to double over the next 30 years and in consequence quite intolerable environmental burdens will ensue, and that without a far more radical approach to the provision of effective, accessible public transport, accompanied by other schemes of mitigation, the Government's alleged commitment to sustainable development is just another effort to hoodwink the British public.

In his Statement the Minister said: The review provided the opportunity to check that each scheme was still essential, was on the proper scale and accorded with the high standards now expected of our road improvements in a way that reconciled the needs of industry and the economy with the needs of the environment". Each scheme is said to have been examined carefully to confirm that it produces a high rate of economic benefit in comparison with cost and has the minimum effect on the environment and that its priority accords with the national strategic road network. Who carried out that examination? What are the criteria that the Government have applied in order to establish those alleged objectives? Surely what is really needed is not simply an assertion of that kind by the Government but a re-ordering of priorities much more heavily loaded than the Government suggest in favour of public transport.

The Government have said that their budget provides spending for 50 per cent. on roads and 40 per cent. on public transport. We are not satisfied that that is other than a bit of "Waldegravia". In any event, it is not right that public transport expenditure in this country bears little comparison with that in Germany, France, Holland, Denmark, Switzerland and many other places on the Continent of Europe. Is it not clear that, despite what the Government have said, the overwhelming majority of the Government's already swollen roads programme remains intact? What percentage of the schemes have been totally abandoned? What is the cost of those abandoned schemes as far as public finance is concerned? As a result of this announcement, how will any more freight be transferred to rail; and what relief will urban residents enjoy from rising pollution, danger and increased congestion?

Are the Government not capable of recognising that the logic of their thinking as regards road congestion is simply—as it was put in a newspaper the other day— To speed large volumes of traffic as quickly as possible from jam to jam"? Is not that the view which is taken by a large number of Conservative Members of Parliament when it comes to their own constituency problems, including, surprisingly enough, the Minister for roads himself, who has dissociated himself from some of these considerations for that reason?

Why then are the Government persisting in these extraordinary schemes? I refer, for example, to the relief roads for the M.25 around London. What is the cost of that? There is also the M.62 around the north and west of Manchester which I understand is going to cost £270 million for 11 miles of road. Instead, by electrifying the trans-Pennine rail link at a cost of £170 million, a good deal of passenger and freight traffic could be diverted from the M.62.

What is to be the new annual spending level on roads as compared with the previous predictions? Was it not said to be £2 billion before and is it not said to be £2 billion now? Wherein lies the change? What change, if any, is there to be in the application of environmental criteria as far as road schemes are concerned? Is it not clear that, however the situation may be dressed up by the Government at present, the current cost-benefit analysis for the provision of roads fails to take environmental considerations fully or properly into account, and that that situation will continue to prevail? In the submission of the Opposition, a considerable opportunity to produce much-needed radical change has been missed yet again.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank

My Lords, I too thank the Minister for the Statement. I sympathise with him because it was a long Statement, taking rather over 10 minutes to deliver, but it says very little. I am afraid that I do not share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, that it is complex. It seems to me to be alarmingly simple. It makes three announcements: one relating to cross-country roads, one relating to the M.25 and the third relating to new reviews. However, it says nothing substantial about the role of the road programme within transport policy as a whole.

One paragraph stated: The review concluded that most resources should go on the two priorities of improving key routes … and on bypasses". Those have been the priorities of successive governments over 25 years. Surely it did not need a review on this occasion to state what must be obvious to the House.

The Statement arises from political expediency (because some of the Government's previous proposals were unpopular) and, we must assume—but I should like to hear more about this from the Minister—from financial necessity. It is an advantage to be able to demonstrate to the Treasury that some schemes are being dropped—if they are being dropped and not merely postponed—and in the present political climate, there is also an advantage in suggesting that, as a result of the review, certain schemes are not to go ahead.

The key statement—and, to me, the most interesting—came about a third of the way through the Minister's speech. The Statement noted: In the past it has taken an average of 13.5 years to get from the entry of a scheme into the programme to its opening. I aim to cut this time by up to a third". That is a worthy and desirable aim, which successive Secretaries of State for Transport have shared, but there is nothing whatever in the Statement to explain precisely how that will be done. There will be better management and more priorities, hut, as the Minister must know, given the consultation process—unless that is to be abandoned in some way—and the hazards of road construction, if we are to see the time reduced "by… a third", we must know precisely how that will be achieved. I should be most grateful if the Minister could tell the House much more precisely than in the Statement the proposals by which the time will be reduced "by … a third".

I should like to ask the Minister the following further questions. It is not plain from the Statement the extent to which there will be a reduction in spending on roads, but I have assumed that that will be the case. Indeed, I thought that the Minister was somewhat disingenuous and trying to have it both ways by arguing that some roads will not now be built as a result of the review while at the same time maintaining a very substantial road programme. What is the result of the review? What percentage fall in the cost of the road programme may we see on the basis of the new priorities over the next five and 10 years? My question relates to current expenditure, not to any reduction in the programme.

My other question relates indirectly, as I suggested, to the point about reducing the time that it takes to commission and build a road. Is the Minister satisfied that the present consultation processes enable road building to take place with the maximum public consent—and only with public consent? If he is not wholly satisfied, and if he wishes to propitiate opinion in this respect, what are his proposals to improve the consultation process consistent with a reduction in the time that it takes to build roads?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for at least appreciating that this is a complex and detailed subject and for not asking me detailed questions about various trunk roads. If they had done so, I think that I should have had to refer them to the text of the book rather than try to answer them at the Dispatch Box.

In answering some of the points made by the two noble Lords, I advise the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, that the Highways Agency will be accountable to the Secretary of State and, through the Secretary of State, to Parliament. That is the line of accountability for that agency, as for other agencies. I suspect that the noble Lord was telling your Lordships' House that the policy of the Labour Party might be to cut the road programme considerably. He questioned me about the priorities that we give to the road budget, as opposed to other forms of transport. I repeat what I said in my Statement: 50 per cent.—half of the budget of the department—goes on roads, but 90 per cent. of all journeys undertaken by people and goods in the United Kingdom are by those roads. Clearly, therefore, we are not spending an amount on roads that is proportionate to people's use of them. In fact, we are concentrating 40 per cent. of the budget on the 10 per cent. of inland journeys that are currently undertaken by public transport. We are thereby endeavouring to increase the number of people and goods carried on public transport.

The noble Lord asked me about who carried out the examination. It was carried out by officials of the Department of Transport, led by my right honourable friend Mr. MacGregor and my honourable friend Mr. Key, the Minister for Roads and Traffic. I repeat what I said in the Statement: they have spent some time examining every project against the criteria that I mentioned in the Statement.

I was asked about what reduction there has been in the programme. Some 49 schemes have been dropped entirely. That represents one-tenth in number and one-seventh by value. The total value of all the schemes that are left in the programme after that reduction is £18 billion now as opposed to £21 billion previously. That is the reduction.

Both noble Lords—the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, and the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis—asked me about the next three years. I repeat that the next three years will see expenditure of about £2 billion every year, as has already been announced.

The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, asked me about the attitude that we have taken on environmental matters to some of the projects that we have cut. One of the points that I made in the Statement was that we have taken out a number of the projects that would have run through open countryside. We have reduced the new trunk road routes through open countryside to only six.

In order to reduce substantially the 13½ years that it takes to complete a new road, we intend to prioritise the schemes. I think I mentioned in my Statement that all schemes go ahead with the same urgency. The review creates Priority I groups and Priority 2 groups. The 80 schemes in the Priority I group will be given the highest priority and first call on both the financial resources that are needed to build the schemes and on the other resources that are needed to develop them. That is the way in which we hope—and expect—to cut the programme.

At the end of his remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, said that we had missed an opportunity to take radical steps with the road programme. Although I should not like to put words into the noble Lord's mouth, I think that he meant, "To cut the road building programme fairly drastically". I do not think that that is possible. People who use our trunk roads expect us to try to take out of the system the particularly difficult bottlenecks on the motorway and trunk road systems. People who live in towns which are currently crossed by major routes expect the benefits of bypasses—and they are considerable benefits.

One has to balance the needs of the environment carefully against the need of our people and economy to use the roads. In the book available in the PPO, your Lordships will find in greater detail what I have outlined in the Statement. I believe that you will then agree that we have the balance right between the needs of our economy and of people for a decent road system and the need to protect the environment.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, will he give an answer to a question that I have put? What is the cost of the schemes which have now been abandoned and which clearly went ahead without sufficiently careful preparation?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I imagine that I am being asked what are the technical preparation costs of the 49 schemes that have been abandoned? No work on the ground has been started. The schemes about which I am talking are those which are being abandoned in the planning and detailed drawing process, not the construction process.

4.11 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, was consideration given to the shortage of petrol refuelling stations and service stations on a good many of the major motorways which causes great difficulty to motorists? Is consideration being given to increasing the availability of those stations? Secondly, from my noble friend's general observations I believe that he will have the figure, but will he say what will be the result of the changes in roads expenditure over the next two or three years? Is it up or down? If so, by how much? Thirdly, in view of the great importance of this matter which affects every part of the country, as the Government Chief Whip is here, perhaps I may ask that we be given an early opportunity for a full day's debate—not time limited, please—on this subject.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend the Chief Whip has heard what my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter has just said about a full day's debate. I might prefer to have a full day's debate rather than to try to get all this into a Statement.

As to the two specific points my noble friend mentioned, on expenditure I can assure him, as I have already said, that expenditure each year over the next three years will remain at about the £2 billion already announced. Motorway service stations are another issue which my right honourable and honourable friends did not address in the roads review. I am aware that steps have been taken to try to improve the network of motorway service stations to overcome the problems that my noble friend mentioned.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, the Statement made it clear that the Government intend to prioritise—a word which is a new horror to me—the proposal to have 14 lanes of concrete or asphalt between Junctions 12 and 15 on the M.25. Does that mean that they have rejected the alternative proposals put to the Secretary of State by some distinguished members of his own party? We are assured that when the inquiry is held the inspector will he independent. If he is persuaded by the evidence, will it be open to him to recommend that the whole scheme, devastating as it is to the environment by way of noise, pollution, encroachment on the green belt and so forth, should be abandoned?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, in all inquiries the inspector makes the recommendations to which he is drawn by the evidence. No pressure is put on an inspector by the department to come to one conclusion or another. That would negate the whole object of having public inquiries. On the M.25, I have, as I have said, announced today that there will be a public inquiry for the link roads between Junctions 12 and 15. That inquiry will go ahead later in the year. I understand those people who think that we should not extend or do any more work on the M.25, but the simple fact is that people need that important link. If it is not there to carry the traffic, the traffic will go increasingly onto local roads. On 12th April the Department of Transport in Marsham Street hopes to mount a little exhibition showing what is planned for the link roads and the other improvements to the M.25. I hope that those of your Lordships who are interested will come along and have a look.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, while I understand my noble friend's request that he should not be probed at this stage about individual items, perhaps I may ask him in which priority the West Midlands figures, because the M.6 is rapidly reaching the point at which everything will come to a standstill. Large sections of it which are elevated 100 feet or more above road level are not easy to widen, but it is necessary to keep open that route to the industrial part of Britain. In which priority is that likely to come?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, it is difficult to find the right page in a fairly complex document covering many roads. I invite my noble friend to read the book rather than listen to the actor, if he does not mind me saying that. The M.6 widening from Birmingham to Stoke, Manchester is a Priority I scheme. As he knows, the M.40 is now complete. The Birmingham northern relief road is intended to be privately financed. That of course will relieve overcrowding on the M.6, and that is going to a public inquiry in June.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, following the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, I wonder whether the Minister has sent his investigators over to the nice new roads in France, where not just full-blown service stations but many convenience stops are placed up and down the new roads, which are convenient both for the old and the very young.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, as I said to my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, the department has previously announced proposals for improving the situation with regard to motorway service stations, but I shall draw the noble Lord's concerns to the attention of my honourable friend the roads Minister.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, I listened with especial interest to my noble friend as I live in the middle of an area that is in the cat's cradle of the new roads which he has said are about to be built and those which he said are not to be built. With regret, I did not hear in his Statement any emphasis on the need to complete a unit of new road. The whole length of a road should be completed and made better for transport. As an example, and purely as an example, he said that the M.40 is now complete. The M.40 is far from complete. The motorway was built at High Wycombe in the late 1960s. It is in four or five stages, and the latest is to be completed this summer at Uxbridge. It will reach as far as Hanger Lane, but there are two more stages to go. We have been travelling up and down those roads. One gets through one blockage, but when that stage is complete the blockage merely moves down the road a mile or so. I ask for some emphasis to be placed on completing a whole unit so that the whole length of a road may be completed.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I understand the point that my noble friend makes, but unfortunately one can do these projects only one step at a time. It would be expensive and disruptive if one were to attempt to reconstruct in one go the whole length of a major road. But I greatly appreciate the point that he is making. It is one of the matters to which the new Highways Agency will have to attend to ensure that it is not disturbing the same traffic over and over again. I shall look at the point that my noble friend makes, and if I have anything helpful to say then I shall write to him.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, the Minister referred to the fact that there would be a transfer of money from roads to other forms of public transport. He will be aware of the Question asked today about British Rail (Scotrail). Knowing his background, I am sure that he must have asked whether there will be a Statement on the roads programme in Scotland reasonably soon. I know that my question is slightly wide of the mark, and I would not have asked any other Minister, but the Minister's ordinary curiosity must have made him ask that question.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I resisted my ordinary curiosity. Dealing with the road network system in England was more than enough for me and I did not ask questions about the road network in Scotland. I cannot answer the noble Lord's question. I shall draw it to the attention of my noble and learned friend Lord Fraser of Carmyllie who will take steps to provide the noble Lord with the answer.

As regards the first part of the noble Lord's question, I reiterate what I said. I did not say that we were diverting money from the roads' programme to the railways; I said that 50 per cent. of the programme is spent on the roads and 90 per cent. of the journeys are made on the roads. Therefore, the accusation that we favour the roads programme above all else is not justified by the figures.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, can the Minister be certain that a mistake such as that made in respect of the A.34 to Bicester will not be made? It is made only of concrete and has no overcover and, as a result, there is considerable noise to villagers round about.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I am well aware of my noble friend's worry about noisy road surfaces. Indeed, work has been done to ensure that road surfaces are quiet in addition to everything else that one expects of them. I can assure her that, in addition to the impact on the countryside, one of the environmental aspects of the review has been the noise impact on people. I am certain that as we move to new and improved materials, the noise aspect of environmental pollution will be reduced. I shall draw the attention of my honourable friend Mr. Key to my noble friend's concern.

Lord Finsberg

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that his Statement announced that steps were taken earlier to change some of the arrangements for public inquiries? He said that he hopes they will not take 13½ years from start to finish. Does my noble friend accept that a growing number of people in this country are getting sick and tired of the length of consultation? Following what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, will he look at how things are done in France, where roads are built more quickly than we can ever hope to do under our present system?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, we are clealing with a consultation document which was issued on 22nd February relating to highway inquiry procedures. Consultation ends on 25th May. The rules must be made by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, and it is hoped that they will be implemented in the summer.

There is in respect of any public inquiry a difficult balance between the need for speed, which for financial reasons is important both to the applicants and the objectors, and the need for people to consider that they have been given a fair hearing. I hope that the current consultation will find ways to improve the situation.

I am unable to comment about France. I shall certainly draw to the attention of those in my department the fact that France appears to be getting a great deal of credit for the speed with which it builds its roads.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, is the Minister aware that I and many other people are anxious about the new Highways Agency because it might be considered that it will promote road transport and road building? However, what is needed is a transportation authority which will ensure that the needs of the country use all forms of transport in a balanced way. Would not that be a better proposition?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, it is just that balance of approach that the Government seek to achieve. The Highways Agency's task will be to deal with highways. The department and the Government will continue to decide on the balance of the programmes and the balance between the different forms of transport in this country, together with the priority given to them and the money spent on them.