HL Deb 23 January 1997 vol 577 cc798-800

3.23 p.m.

Lord Berkeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

What provision has been made in the 1997-98 local transport settlement for local authorities to fund minor works (such as bus priority schemes, cycle routes, pedestrian crossings, safe routes to schools and traffic calming) which are not package schemes.

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

My Lords, the Government allocated £60 million for 1997-98 to local authorities for minor works designed to improve road safety. That may be used for schemes both outside and within areas covered by transport packages. New or improved pedestrian crossings, safe routes to school and traffic calming may qualify for funding as road safety schemes if they are designed to deal with locations where there is a record of accidents.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that detailed reply. Can the noble Viscount confirm that the budget for minor works not included in packages, which in fact encompasses cycle routes, bus priorities, pedestrian crossings, safe routes to schools and traffic calming, has actually been reduced from £44 million last year to zero this year?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, as I said in my original Answer, some of the types of schemes which the noble Lord mentioned are classified as "safety schemes". If they come within that classification then money from the allocation of £60 million, which represents an increase of over 10 per cent. on the year before, can be used towards such schemes. It is a matter of deciding priorities. We have decided that safety should be such a priority.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, is the Minister aware that when some of us were in another place we pressed the Government to have a senior civil servant in each region specifically responsible for cycling matters? I am glad to say that they agreed and that it has been very successful. Can the Minister say whether that still operates? Surely the case for cycling—for example, good exercise, non-polluting, and so on—is already made. Can the noble Viscount tell me whether the budgets are being cut and also what is happening in the northern region? If he cannot give specific information on the latter today, perhaps he will write to me in that respect.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, I shall be delighted to write with any level of detail that the noble Lord requires. Fundamentally the noble Lord is quite right; the Government do take cycling seriously. Indeed, we now have a cycling strategy and there is a document on the subject, a copy of which I shall be pleased to send to the noble Lord.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, the Minister and I obviously disagree on the breakdown of the budget. I was referring to minor schemes only which are not packages. Will the Minister confirm that at the same time as the £44 million has been cut to zero the local authority budget for road schemes has been increased by £36 million? Further, can the noble Viscount say why the Government have allowed such a major increase for road schemes but have not allowed any increase for London Underground for the Jubilee Line which, after all, is a similar transport project?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, the noble Lord is missing the fact that, as I said, there is a category for minor works concerned with safety. There is also a category for minor works within package bids which, again, we have discussed. The pressure came specifically from existing local authority commitments for major projects. That has reduced the amount available for minor works. Within that reduced total, we feel that safety projects, and those within package schemes with associated environmental benefits, should be the priority.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, from the answers that he has given so far this afternoon, can the Minister confirm that if one adds together the amount spent last year, notwithstanding the increase to which he referred within the £60 million, there is a real terms reduction of over £30 million on road safety schemes, taking packages and minor schemes together?

Viscount Goschen

No, my Lords; I do not believe that that is the case. There is a reduction in the amount available for minor schemes but, as I have sought to explain, there is a specific allocation for road safety schemes. Indeed, that has been increased from £55 million to £60 million.