HL Deb 31 July 1998 vol 592 cc1741-53

11.19 a.m.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall now repeat a Statement on the strategic review of trunk roads being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Minister of State for Transport. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission I wish to make a Statement about our strategic review of trunk roads, the report on which, A New Deal for Trunk Roads in England, is published today. I would like to begin by paying tribute to my right honourable friend the Member for Edinburgh East and Musselburgh and to my noble friend Lady Hayman for their tremendous work on this review. Copies of the report and regional leaflets explaining our decisions will be available in the Vote Office after this Statement. I have sent details to all MPs for English constituencies.

"We are committed to modernisation and prudent public finances. These themes formed the backdrop to the roads review. The outcome is not the grandiose but impractical notions of our predecessors, but realistic, practical decisions which will help business, help people and help Britain. Trunk roads are vital for business and personal travel. They carry a third of passenger traffic and over a half of freight. Traffic is expected to grow over the next 20 years by about 50 per cent. By the year 2016 a quarter of our trunk roads will be seriously congested. To do nothing about this is not an option. We need a new approach, building on that set out in our integrated transport White Paper. A New Deal for Trunk Roads in England is therefore based on the fundamental principle that trunk roads must have a central role in our integrated national transport system.

"There are four other key points in our approach. We will make better use of the existing network. Building new roads will not be the first option. We will help motorists by investing more in road maintenance. We will reduce the negative impact of trunk roads on people and the environment through safer roads, less noise, less pollution and less intrusion. We will ensure that trunk road planning is integrated with regional land use and transport strategies. We are giving the Highways Agency new objectives. We are putting more emphasis on its role as the operator of the network rather than the road builder. We shall look at options for charging users on trunk roads and using the revenue to maintain and improve the network. We have already announced that we are looking at continuing charging on the Dartford crossing and using the income to help deliver integrated transport objectives on the M.25. Moreover, today I can announce that projects to make better use of the network will benefit from 60 per cent. more funding by 2001–2.

"Roads are a vital national asset which has been poorly maintained. Without a change in direction, the state of roads will worsen. We will begin to put this right. We have already increased the provision for capital maintenance of roads by 50 per cent. for the current year. I can announce today that, in addition, maintenance spending overall will go up by a further 20 per cent. by the year 2001–2. We will progressively tackle the backlog and maintain trunk roads at minimum 'whole-life' costs. Taken with our proposals to encourage less damaging six-axle lorries, this strategy will save money, enhance safety and reduce disruption.

"The trunk road network has a good safety record and we will establish targets to reduce road casualties further. I am pleased to be able to tell the House that we have set up a ring-fenced safety budget for small safety projects. This will grow steadily to £50 million in 2001–2.

"Well planned bypasses and certain other road improvements can improve the environment and transform towns and villages without doing serious harm to the countryside. The key is to ensure that the environment is given full weight from the outset. From now on, therefore, there will be a strong presumption against affecting environmentally sensitive sites by new roads. In that context I can tell the House we are reducing the number of sites of special scientific interest affected by the programme from 49 to eight.

"I can also tell the House that we will use low noise surfaces for new roads and, where appropriate, when an existing road is re-surfaced. We will also have a dedicated budget to tackle some of the most difficult existing noise problems.

"Getting the planning framework right is crucial. I can today outline three measures to ensure that such a framework is put in place. First, future trunk road planning will be part of the regional planning system and set in the context of the overall transport and land use strategy for each region. Secondly, we are proposing to transfer some 40 per cent. of the existing trunk road network to local highway authorities. These roads should be managed by local authorities as part of local transport plans. Thirdly, we have ended the discredited 'predict and provide' approach to road building. Instead, our new appraisal approach is based on the five criteria of integration, environment, safety, the economy and accessibility. The new approach will become an increasingly important tool for appraising alternative options across all forms of transport.

"I turn now to the review of the trunk roads programme. For the first time ever we conducted a wide-ranging public consultation on the review with meetings in each region in which my right honourable friend the Member for Edinburgh East and Musselburgh played a prominent part. My noble friend Lady Hayman met MPs to hear their views. Some 14,000 written representations were received. Together this gave us a clear picture of regional priorities.

"For the first time ever we analysed objectively the problems we were seeking to address using broadly based criteria. For the first time ever we have provided financial stability through our three-year spending programme and seven year transport investment plan which will enable our programme to go ahead. And for the first time ever we have a practical and focused programme. Gone is our predecessor's massive wish list of 150 schemes, some of which would never have been built, over a timescale which was never specified and for which money was never assured.

"We have looked at the schemes which could be started in the foreseeable future and produced a programme that is funded and delivers our objectives. This is the 37 schemes in our targeted programme of improvements, all of which can be started within seven years. Of these, the largest category is safety and healthier communities, reflecting the importance we attach to these objectives. This includes much needed bypasses which will take large volumes of traffic out of towns and villages, thereby improving the quality of life. It also includes schemes designed to improve sections with poor accident rates.

"Another category, regeneration and integration, includes junction improvements to remove bottlenecks which are hampering development, dualling schemes to improve access to remote areas, and schemes to facilitate access to a rail-freight terminal and an airport. Finally, the jobs and prosperity category includes schemes to deal with bottlenecks and others needed to support economic growth in particular locations. Many of the schemes which are not taken forward reflect serious transport problems which need to be addressed. There will be a programme of studies which will look at practical options and develop integrated transport solutions.

"The House will not expect me to give details of every scheme but I should cover two particular issues. The motorway network is the core of the road system and essential to the nation's economy. A number of schemes for widening the existing motorway network were under consideration. We had to balance their economic benefits against the impact on the environment and local communities.

"In some cases, for example the proposals to widen the M.6 between Junctions 11A and 19, we propose to study all the integrated transport options, including the shifting of traffic from road to rail, in order to develop the best integrated transport solution to deal with the serious problems on this route between Birmingham and Manchester. For the first time we have brought Railtrack and the Highways Agency into a concordat to work on problems such as this.

"I now turn to the M.25. The M.25 is a strategic motorway which is important to the entire country. It is severely congested, which is bad for the economy and the environment. There are no easy answers. We need a package of measures including traffic and demand management and attractive public transport alternatives. We are setting in hand a major study to develop such solutions. Meanwhile, we propose a number of short-term measures such as closed circuit TV cameras covering the whole motorway and the extension of variable speed limits. We will also investigate using the hard shoulder as a climbing lane, subject to safety considerations.

"But the problems between Junctions 12 (the M.3 junction) and 15 (the M.4 junction) are so acute that providing some extra capacity has to be part of the strategy. This is the most heavily used section of our motorway network with flows of up to 200,000 vehicles a day. The most up-to-date traffic management measures have already been applied to this section. More capacity is needed to allow a breathing space while wider integrated transport policies take effect and to allow for the gradual introduction of the necessary traffic and demand management strategies. We have therefore concluded that this widening scheme should go ahead. We are, however, cancelling the two other widening schemes on the M.25 between Junctions 15 and 19.

"There is also one scheme that brings together economic, environmental and heritage issues. Stonehenge is unique—a world heritage site. Yet its setting has been described by the Public Accounts Committee as a 'national disgrace'. The solution developed by my department, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and English Heritage is to put the 2km section of the A.303 which passes the stones in a cut-and-cover tunnel. At least a third of the costs will be found from heritage sources. The scheme will have major heritage and environmental benefits. It will remove a bottleneck and improve the traffic flow on the A.303. It shows what can be achieved with cross-departmental working.

"Judgments about roads are never easy. The policy I have announced today is good for the economy because it gives priority to maintenance and making best use of an asset as well as investing in a number of urgent schemes. It is good for safety and the environment. We have reduced dramatically the number of sites of special scientific interest affected by the programme. It makes good financial sense with a practical, deliverable, programme for the future. A New Deal for Trunk Roads in England sets out a radical approach to trunk road policy which is based firmly on our integrated transport strategy. I commend it to the House".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

11.31 a.m.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, two days ago I had the good fortune to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, on his promotion. As your Lordships will recall, the Opposition Front Bench foreign affairs team mounted a long-running campaign which included parliamentary Questions in another place, repeated statements from this Dispatch Box and a number of interventions, all aimed at catching the Prime Minister's eye in the run-up to the reshuffle so that the noble Lord would gain promotion. We sincerely congratulate him.

Noble Lords may also have noticed that, as foreign affairs spokesman, I find myself in the somewhat unusual position of responding to the Statement on behalf of the Opposition. However, this provides me with a unique and objective standpoint which has refreshed memories of the close relationship that I established with Department of Transport officials during my time as the Department of the Environment Minister responsible for planning. I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I simply wish to ask him the following questions.

Does the Minister agree that more than 500 communities waiting for relief from congestion and pollution from the building of bypasses will be bitterly disappointed by this Statement? What criteria have the Government used to exclude the vast majority of schemes? How many bypasses are planned for this year, next year and the following year? What will be the total over the lifetime of this Parliament?

Does the Minister agree with Friends of the Earth that properly built and managed bypasses relieve congestion and pollution? Can he confirm that a large proportion of the money for planned spending on roads maintenance comes from the total cutting of all subsidy to London Underground by the year 2000? Will the Minister explain to the House his assumptions for economic growth from passenger increases which allow him to cut the subsidy to London Underground? Will he explain what will happen to the roads maintenance programme if his assumptions turn out to be over-optimistic?

What significance does the Government's decision on the continuation of the Dartford crossing tolls, announced last week and referred to again in the Statement, have for local road users in terms of hypothecation, transparency and fairness? Is the principle behind that decision to be extended, for example, to the Skye road bridge, the Severn bridges and the bridge over the mouth of the Humber?

All the schemes due to be scrapped as a result of the review have been the subject of numerous analyses, revealing real problems—for example, the M.1 and M.6 widening. What plans do the Government have to resolve those problems quickly? I understand the studies announced in the Statement; however, it is the speed of action on which I seek to elicit a response from the Minister.

Will the Minister inform the House as to why—perhaps the most surprising point of all—the Secretary of State no longer regards the widening of the M.25 as "lunacy"? What made him change his mind? The Secretary of State might well consider the maxim that Ministers who do U-turns on motorways seldom survive to tell the story.

Behind every cloud there is a silver lining, and we on this side of the House welcome the establishment of properly resourced and technologically equipped regional road centres. Will the Minister tell the House how quickly they will be up and functioning?

Finally, the Government appear to have begun to adopt the new "Prescott's law"—the absurd notion that placing traffic lights on busy roundabouts relieves congestion. It does not. Those of us more fortunate than the Minister who travel to Parliament from the London Borough of Lambeth, south of the river, have in recent days experienced the chaos, delays and increased pollution resulting from the imposition of traffic lights on the roundabout immediately south of Lambeth Bridge. Perhaps I may therefore ask the Minister whether, with his customary courtesy, he will forward any policy statements, research studies or reports his department has collated on the effects of traffic lights placed on busy roundabouts.

In summary, I can do no better than respond—

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, was the noble Lord travelling in his own car or on public transport when he experienced all those problems with traffic lights?

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, I can inform noble Lords that I was travelling in a car. I walk when the weather is good and I drive when the weather is bad. On that occasion I was driving.

To summarise on the whole question of the Statement and the issues under consideration today, I can do no better than refer to the BBC Radio 4 reporter who said, on handing back to the studio this morning following his consideration of the proposed Roads Review: "So it's jams tomorrow, John". I am sure that we shall receive excellent answers from the Minister. Once again, I warmly congratulate him on his promotion and I look forward to hearing his reply.

11.37 a.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, perhaps I may follow the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, in welcoming the noble Lord to the Front Benches. If I may say so, he has a rather hard act to follow. However, I am sure that he will do it with his customary elegance and ability. I apologise for missing the first few words of the Statement. I had in fact read it, so I was aware of the content. I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement and for giving us just a little time to consider our response.

In general, from these Benches we welcome the Statement as a beginning of the implementation of some of the proposals in the transport White Paper relating to major road building and various other aspects which this Statement covers. We also welcome in principle the reduction in major schemes. I wonder, however, whether the Minister can tell us whether the villages which are to lose their bypasses are to be included on the list of 150 traffic management schemes and schemes for reduction of the impact of traffic announced during the Statement on the transport White Paper.

There is also some doubt as to the number of schemes that have been axed. Will the Minister acknowledge that schemes "kept under consideration", including the 57 that are to be considered by the regional planning conferences, cost money during the period of consideration? Who will finance that cost? That is especially important because the regional planning conferences have not previously been the major authorities for carrying forward road schemes. That has been the job of the Highways Authority. It is an important shift which needs to be followed by some sort of financial support.

The same question applies to the seven schemes that are to be "progressed pending final decision", and the 19 that have been delegated to local authorities. In fact, only 18 schemes on the core network have been categorically withdrawn. Can the Minister confirm that figure, which I calculated in rather a hurry?

There is useful material in the full report about sharing out road space and the linkage between road building and other solutions to improve access and safety. There is also the welcome promise of quieter road surfaces, local management of some major roads, the principle of the seven-year investment programme, the end of the wish-list approach and the co-operation between Railtrack and the Highways Agency.

It was not in the Statement, but there is also the continuing possibility of tolls on the motorway and trunk road system, to which I offer opposition. In most people's experience and in the opinion of many engineers, the effect of tolling the major road system is to transfer the burden of traffic onto less suitable roads. Would the Minister care to respond to that assertion?

I turn to the widening of the M.25 between junctions 12 and 15. Can the Minister tell us whether there is any specific provision for public transport vehicles in the widening, which we oppose? Can he also tell us when the widened section will once again become congested? In other words, how long is the window of opportunity? I have been told that it might be as little as 10 years. In my experience on the Highways Authority, 10 years is not much time to start reorganising the surrounding network.

I shall not ask a relevant but complicated technical question as to the standard of vehicles per hour which has been used to justify the expansion, but I shall do so by letter.

Finally, does the Minister accept that a Statement plus the opportunity to put questions is not an adequate method of providing parliamentary scrutiny, particularly when we are talking about a major change in government policy? The result is to leave the main scrutiny to the media and not the politicians and I submit that that is not the best way to get round the problem.

11.42 a.m.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, first I thank the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, for his congratulations on my change of status. I believe he knows that there was a time when his constant assertions of my suitability for preferment could be seriously counterproductive. I was wrong in that; the noble Lord has far more influence in Downing Street than many of us on this side of the House. I am deeply impressed. I am further impressed with his sudden conversion into a transport expert, even though his focus may be on areas less than 500 yards from the House. Nevertheless, his expertise is evident and I thank him and the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, for their welcome for at least aspects of the Statement.

The Statement indicates a strategic approach. It is shifting concentration onto trunk routes and within the expenditure on trunk routes it is shifting towards improving the existing network, while still maintaining a clearly focused core of schemes with which we need to go ahead in our improvement programme.

In addition, noble Lords may not have picked up from the Statement that we shall be giving to the Highways Agency much more of a management than a road-building role. That will be part of the outcome of the studies which the noble Baroness mentioned, and other measures than road-building to solve some of the problems which we are not tackling directly. It places the whole of our roads programme in a broader integrated transport strategy. Solutions to some of the problems at least will not be road-building solutions.

The noble Baroness asked me about the figures. Compared with what we are referring to as a wish-list which we inherited without a timescale and without clear budgeting, we now have a budgeted programme, all of which will be started within the next seven years. In terms of the numbers withdrawn from the previous existing programme, in total 36 have been withdrawn, eight of which are subject to further studies.

The noble Lord and the noble Baroness raised the question of charging. I referred in the Statement to the continuing charge at the Dartford Tunnel. As we said in last week's White Paper, we intend to introduce legislation to permit charging road users. We anticipate that although early schemes may be primarily in urban areas, schemes may also be developed on trunk roads and motorways, either on a self-standing basis or jointly with local authorities. We believe that charging schemes can help to meet transport and environmental objectives in both urban and rural areas by relieving congestion and providing a guaranteed income stream. There are no further announcements in relation to tolling in the Statement.

The noble Baroness also asked about the timescale of studies. I cannot give a definitive answer as to when all the studies will be complete, some will take longer than others. Those which are in our core programme can be started within the period to which I referred. The noble Lord raised the question of the M.1 and M.6 studies, where we are looking not only at road solutions but also other solutions and transfers of freight and traffic. They will take some time because they are extremely complex studies.

Both Opposition spokespeople referred to the M.25 and to the Deputy Prime Minister's previous rejection of widening of the M.25. I do not use such colourful language as my right honourable friend, but it would be a non-solution to widen the M.25 in all the places proposed and it would have severe environmental effects. The area of the scheme in which we are extending the M.25 has some 200,000 users per day. Traffic management schemes have already been introduced under the previous regime. They have partly improved the problem, but they have not resolved it. There is no other solution than to extend the M.25 in that limited area. We intend to do so. The noble Baroness asked about public service transport, there is no implication of dedicated routes in the solution. Any such solution would require further consideration of the M.25 as a whole.

Both noble spokespeople referred to the bypasses programme. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, suggested that there was a massive cut in the bypasses programme. There is a change of emphasis, a shift of expenditure from bypasses to maintenance which will benefit a wider range of road users. But it would be wrong to say that this is a massive cut-back on bypasses. There are 15 bypass schemes in the targeted programme of improvements, and there are other schemes which have partial bypass effects. An additional three will be progressed up to starting point. There are 12 on hold, one will be withdrawn and there are nine bypass schemes in the pre-existing programme which are to be de-trunked. Bypass provision plays a major part in our strategy.

The noble Lord asked about the London Underground. I can assure him that there has been no transfer in the sense to which he referred between the London Underground and the roads programme. Indeed, the Comprehensive Spending Review transport settlement makes that clear. We are balancing competing priorities, but the additional maintenance spend is not a read-over from the London Transport figures.

The noble Lord also asked about traffic lights and Lambeth Bridge. I understand his preoccupation with that area, but I must say that it is not part of the trunk road programme and therefore plays no part in the Statement today. Anyway, the responsibility for London roads will shortly, subject to the decision of the House, pass to the Greater London authority.

The noble Lord also asked about the timing on regional centres. Proposals still require some development, but the indications are good. The roads review report identifies significant benefits from the centres on traffic management, strategic traffic control, travel information and emergency assistance. We hope to bring proposals forward soon, certainly within the next two years.

The noble Baroness concluded by asking whether this was the best time to have a debate on these issues. I have no doubt that noble Lords, subject to the normal procedures, will wish to raise transport and road issues at subsequent stages. However, we felt that as soon as the decisions had been made we ought to inform Parliament and the public and we have done so in the announcement made by my right honourable friend today.

I have dealt with most of the questions. I should like to finish by paying tribute to my noble friend Lady Hayman. Not only has she presented the whole of the enormous portfolio of the DETR to this House, but she has also personally been involved in all of those decisions. I say that not to deny my own responsibility for them, but to indicate the degree of executive responsibility that she carried. She looked at all the schemes in the pre-existing programme and reached those conclusions. It has been a massive task and the Government and the whole House are grateful to her.

11.51 a.m.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I congratulate the Government on cracking an extremely hard nut. I recall the saga of the limes at Hampton Court. It took 20 years and goodness knows how many Ministers to resolve the matter before they were ultimately replanted. The same can be said of the A.303 by Stonehenge. I am delighted with the announcement that there is to be a cut-and-cover solution to that specific section. However, I observed too that the spin put on the Statement, and indeed the White Paper, was that the Government's new policy was realistic. There will be a lot of disappointed people throughout the country who have been relying on the bypasses mentioned by both my noble friend and the noble Baroness on the Liberal Democrat Benches. They will not find the plan realistic and it is no solution if we cannot get down a quieter road.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord's remarks in relation to Stonehenge. It is a unique project and a substantial resource that we are putting into it. It is a joint operation between ourselves and heritage resources for that site, which is unique in the whole of Europe.

I accept that there will be a number of communities, pressure groups and individual drivers who will be disappointed that some schemes have not been included within the programme. But, to coin a phrase, we are always faced with hard choices. We decided our priorities on a broad range of indications which range from the environmental to the straightforwardly economic, and from the road environment to the general environment surrounding them. We had to make choices. We made them on objective criteria. Some people will be disappointed that roads are not being built and others that roads are being built. Nevertheless, we had to strike a balance. I believe that the strategy is right and I hope that the House will accept it.

Lord Kennett

My Lords, perhaps I can ask for a little more information about the Stonehenge road. The acceptability of a cut-and-cover solution, because the cut will continue straight across the Stonehenge plain, will depend on two things; first, where the portals will be. We are told it is to be two kilometres, but which two kilometres? What will they be like and where will they be? That could ruin the whole project. Secondly, does my noble friend agree that it would have been better, had it been possible, to have provided a deep bore tunnel a little to the south entirely off the area of the Stonehenge plain? It would then have been unnecessary to disturb the archaeology below the surface.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I do not accept my noble friend's last point. The provision of a deep bore tunnel, wherever it was placed, would not only be substantially more expensive, but would cause even greater environmental effects. The siting of the portals will take into account the archaeological sites; not just the stones in the immediate area but also the barrows and other sites around the area. It will also incorporate on a traffic basis a bypass to Winterbourne Stoke.

Looking at all the solutions to the Stonehenge position from all angles, a cut-and-cover tunnel seemed to us the best solution. But we will ensure that archaeological sites are not destroyed in the process.

Baroness Ludford

My Lords, is the Minister confident that the ability of the Greater London Authority to develop an integrated transport strategy is not being prejudiced? The criteria for the scheme has been chosen but it is said that one of the schemes that will be taken forward, subject to the agreement with developers, is the M.25 Terminal 5 spur road. That seems to me to pre-empt certain decisions. Also, the A.23 Coulsdon inner relief road is being decided on.

The Statement described the M.25 as a strategic motorway, though in the supplement it concedes that it is also a bypass for London. I am concerned about the decision to widen the M.25 which may to some extent prejudice the ability of the GLA—which may be up and running in 18 months—to make the kind of decisions that impact strongly on London.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the M.25 will continue to be part of the national trunk route, as indeed it should be. Therefore there will be national responsibility for it. My reference to the Greater London Authority related to the smaller highway across the river to which the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, drew attention.

Obviously, any change in the structure of the M.25 will impact on the surrounding roads and therefore it will be necessary for the continuing management of the M.25 to be considered in conjunction with the GLA once it is established and once its regional strategy for transport is established. The decisions on the widening of the M.25 are taken irrespective of the decision on Terminal 5 and therefore do not pre-empt anything.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, I heard a horrified gasp from my noble friend when the Minister quoted from the Statement, We will also investigate using the hard shoulder as a climbing lane, subject to safety considerations". I add my horrified gasp to that. To be fair to the noble Lord, the Secretary of State was referring specifically to the M.25. However, I am sure that the idea will spread beyond that road and it is a terrifyingly dangerous concept.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I take the noble Lord's point. Clearly the Statement refers solely to the M.25, though as the noble Lord will know there are some motorways where it is already in practice. It has serious safety implications and any decision to use the hard shoulder on the M.25 must give prime consideration to those safety issues.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, perhaps I may probe the Minister a little further on the M.25. First, I congratulate him on his new appointment which I very much welcome, and I share his congratulations on the work done by my noble friend Lady Hayman in that position over the past year or so.

Will my noble friend confirm than the widening of the M.25 around Heathrow is not dependent on the result of a public inquiry into Terminal 5 and therefore the predictions that require the widening are based on Terminal 5 not being built? Can he confirm also that if Terminal 5 goes ahead, there will be no further widening proposals on the M.25? As we all know, British Airports Authority is committed to increasing the number of passengers and workers that travel by public transport to the terminal to such a degree that we would not need any more roads. Lastly, can the Minister confirm that if British Airports Authority suggests that more roads are required, it should contribute significantly to the cost of them?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I can confirm that the decision taken on the widening of the M.25 is taken on transport grounds and is not in any way dependent on Terminal 5 being built. The Terminal 5 inquiry is considering surface access proposals on the basis of the widening proposed and no more. Forecasts presented to the inquiry suggest that no additional capacity will be required. Of course it is a matter for the inspector to advise on this in due course and on any costs which arise.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, I hesitate to edge the House beyond the M.25. Some of us have lived for years with the saga of the Aire Valley trunk road, the attempt by the Ministry of Transport to build another trans-Pennine link. What we are left with is a half-built road stuck without an end, the A.650. Various proposals have been made to avoid sites of scientific interest and the historic village of Saltaire by, for example, tunnelling the road under Shipley. I do not expect that the Minister has a brief on this. I hesitate to ask that he look to see whether it is there. I simply flag it as one of the issues which is unresolved. If we are to have a greater emphasis on heritage and SSSIs in considering the future road programme, this is one of the questions which should be looked at again.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, although I do indeed have a brief on the A.650 and on the trans-Pennine A.66, without an atlas I am not entirely clear which section of it the noble Lord is referring to.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

Between Bingley and Shipley.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, if it is between Bingley and Shipley, then the Bingley relief road is in the approved programme and therefore the next stage will be carried out. As far as the rest of the road is concerned, perhaps I can write to the noble Lord.

Viscount Addison

My Lords, with regard to the extra funding for road maintenance, will the Minister confirm that greater emphasis will be placed on round-the-clock working to help speed completion of projects?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, that seems a sensible idea. It will however form part of the responsibilities of the Highways Agency and the contracts it gives to deliver this programme. Clearly, we would wish to deliver it at minimum disruption and therefore some such suggestions will in most cases be relevant.

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