HL Deb 25 June 1996 vol 573 cc762-4

2.54 p.m.

Lord Renton asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will reconsider the height, design and direction of road lighting along motorways and other major roads.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen)

My Lords, the height, design and direction of road lighting are carefully considered on a scheme-by-scheme basis to maximise efficiency while minimising the costs and the environmental impact by day and by night. The design recommendations for the lighting of roundabouts in rural areas where surrounding areas are not lit is currently under review.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Is he aware that the high lamp standards which are in common use obscure the night sky, obtrude on the environment, cost too much because so much metal is used and, when falling to the ground, cause much unnecessary damage? Will the Government try to achieve higher environmental standards by lowering the height of lamp standards?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, we take environmental considerations extremely seriously. The simple truth is that if we make the stands shorter, we need more of them. If those in the centre of motorways were at half height, we could end up needing six times as many poles, with the consequent increase in the amount of light being put into the environment. It is not as simple a matter as one may think. We must also consider what the daytime scene looks like.

Lord Howell

My Lords, have the Government made any comparison of safety between motorways that are lit and those that are unlit? I have the impression that well-lit roads are much safer to drive on. Would it not be sensible for the Government to embark on a programme of lighting all motorways?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. Good lighting produces road safety benefits. It is estimated that in certain circumstances 30 per cent. of night-time accidents may be reduced using lighting; that is, 30 per cent. of the 30 per cent. figure relating to accidents that occur at night. We have done research into this important subject and use a cost-benefit analysis process to decide whether or not we should be lighting a specific stretch of motorway.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Renton, that ideally all motorways should be lit. Will the Government consider planting barriers of prickly, vandal-proof shrubs such as rugosa roses down the central reservation so that motorists are not dazzled by the lights of oncoming traffic? It would not be quite as effective as lighting, but it would surely be a great deal cheaper and possibly more environmentally friendly.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, the noble Lady makes an important point about avoiding the dazzling effect of the lights of oncoming vehicles. On parts of some roads barriers are erected. Whether those barriers should be of a man-made construction or herbivorous, for want of a better word—not quite the right word, I fear; made of shrubs, I should have said—has to be a decision made in terms of cost-effectiveness and with regard to the leaves that may fall on to the road.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, will the noble Viscount give an assurance to the House that any action by Her Majesty's Government will be productive? Will he confirm in that connection that the European Commission may claim that it is a matter within its own competence? One would not wish Her Majesty's Government to waste their time if they had to ask the Commission's permission first.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, road lighting, be it herbivorous or carnivorous, is fully within the competence of Her Majesty's Government.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, as the European connection has been mentioned, can the Minister say whether a study has been made of lighting in Europe? Motorways are an international phenomenon. From my experience the objective of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, is being met on some European motorways.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, my noble friend's objective is to achieve good road lighting with the safety benefits that flow from it while minimising the environmental effects. That is the policy being pursued in this country. We have a great deal of expertise in the subject, and the newer high-powered sodium lighting is producing the benefits we want in terms of containing the light. We look carefully at schemes in other countries but believe that the work we have done provides good solutions in this country.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that his coining of a new word will be of considerable interest to the horticultural industry?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, we are all having trouble with our words today. That is the word I was looking for earlier.

Baroness David

My Lords, has any thought been given to reducing lighting more gradually? To go from very brightly lit junctions into total darkness is very disconcerting.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, that is a good point; I do not know quite how one could achieve it apart from having progressively lower levels of lighting. The crucial point is that the areas where there are maximum safety benefits to be gained should be properly lit and that we carry out the proper analysis to decide that. I shall certainly inquire as to whether any work has been done on graduation.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, is the Minister aware that coining new words is no substitute for coining new policies? Will he be more open with the House about the nature of the research that is being undertaken and the comparison with countries elsewhere in Europe. For example, is he aware that in Belgium all motorways are lit and that there has been a corresponding important reduction in the number of motor accidents which seems to bear out what he said in relation to the statistics he employed in his first answer? Is there not more room for engaging in international discussions, not taking account of what my noble friend had to say earlier but ensuring that the most important criterion is the avoidance of loss of life and serious injury which seem too prevalent in relation to night time driving, largely because of the absence of effective lighting?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, on the research front, I shall be delighted to send the noble Lord a copy of the pamphlet Road Lighting and the Environment, which I believe will answer many of his questions. There are two problems about having widespread motorway lighting. One is the environmental issue of polluting the night sky, which was raised by my noble friend, and the other is cost. We must concentrate our resources on where the maximum road safety benefits can be achieved.