HL Deb 26 January 1999 vol 596 cc869-71

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have now completed their review of plans for the eastern end of the M.40/A.40 at Acton, and whether they now intend to complete the work.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty)

My Lords, the original plans for this area were dropped in July 1997 in the accelerated review. On 8th September last year we announced a three-stage plan of works for the A.40 in Acton. We have already commenced improving pedestrian and cycle facilities at Western Circus. Later this year we shall provide better pedestrian and cycle facilities at Gipsy Corner. In addition we shall remove the present bottleneck by replacing the two railway bridges and improving the dual two-lane section to three lanes. That is likely to start in about 2002. Together with the London Borough of Ealing, we are looking at the best way of using the surplus land.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply which gives some comfort to people who spend miserable hours at that bottleneck. Is there no way of accelerating the improvement of the two-lane section to three lanes before the year 2002? Will the noble Lord confirm that the new Labour Government do not intend to use bottlenecks and traffic jams as part of their policy to stop people coming to London?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the timetable is partly constrained by the contracting; it is also constrained by our priorities in road building. Therefore I cannot comfort the noble Lord or others who travel on that route by stating that it will be started before 2002. By that time much of the area will be the responsibility of the London mayor. I can confirm that it is not the Government's policy to use congestion as a rationing system. However, there is some responsibility on drivers. Eighty per cent. of traffic on this road at rush hour consists of private cars; and 80 per cent. of those private cars are single occupant cars. That is not a sustainable traffic pattern.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, was not the finance in place and the system ready to go on this section of road when the Government cancelled the programme in July 1997? Is the noble Lord aware that derelict houses which were boarded up for a considerable time—some have now been demolished—were infested with rats, to the great distress of local residents? Did the Government provide any financial help to the local borough to deal with those problems?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, in the main the land involved is currently Highways Agency land. It is true that for 10 years there was a degree of blight on that land. While theoretically the plan was in the programme, the programme was never started and the funding was not in place in any committed sense. We decided that it was not a priority area. I appreciate that those who use the road will think otherwise. However, there is adequate public transport. We need to transfer some of the traffic off that road as well as making the improvements to which I referred.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, if the plan is not to be accelerated, what is being done to improve public transport and provide parking around stations?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, London Transport is to improve substantially the station network. But that will take time. Proposals for establishing park-and-ride facilities further out are currently under consideration by the Government and the appropriate local authorities in Hillingdon and Buckinghamshire.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, will the Minister consider delaying for ever the introduction of three lanes on that section of the road? Will the Government put more money into rebuilding the houses to which the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, referred so that a community can be restored along the road?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I understand that the London boroughs of Ealing and Hammersmith will shortly consider proposals; the Highways Agency has put forward its points. The intention is that the land should be put back into productive use either as a green corridor or for housing. The increase of two lanes to three lanes relates to the railway bridges which are a pinch point on the route.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, I declare the usual interest. Is the Minister aware that down the line as far as Beaconsfield station car parks are totally full by 10 a.m. and that people who wish to come to London are almost forced to travel by road and be caught up in traffic jams?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I am aware of the inadequacies of car parking at some stations. It is a problem which the Government, local authorities, Railtrack and London Transport need to address.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, how many hectares are fallow on this stretch of land?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I had better write to the noble Baroness with the answer. I might make a guess in acres not in hectares.

Lord Montague of Oxford

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the A.40 was upgraded to the M.40 on the argument that it would be the relief road for the M.1? We have heard about the local traffic, but between now and 2005 when the work begins how much extra traffic is expected from the M.1? I believe that the Minister should reconsider the matter and see whether the date can be brought forward. It is important for those who live in the Midlands.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, two different issues are involved. One is the trunk road network and the other is the pressure on commuting into London along the A.40. We are looking at improving the flow of traffic on the M.4, M.40, M.3 and M.25 connections which take much of the traffic from the Midlands to the south and to the ports. The problem on this stretch of the A.40 is primarily a commuter problem. I repeat that 80 per cent. of the private cars contain only the driver. That is not sustainable, however much money we spend on roads.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, will the Minister look not only at how he speeds up the work to be undertaken on the A.40/M.40 but also at ensuring that where roads are under repair there are men—and perhaps women, too—working on them? An enormous problem is created on roads around London, including the road mentioned in the Question and also The Mall, which I use regularly, when no one is working although the roads are supposed to be under repair. Will the Minister look at that?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I agree that the Highways Agency and the local highways authorities need to look at the efficiency of their maintenance programmes. However, it is the case that a road must be closed for a long time before and after the work is undertaken in order to ensure that traffic flows have adjusted. Nevertheless, the noble Baroness has a point.

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