HL Deb 26 July 2000 vol 616 cc511-4

(" . In section 13(5) of the Goods Vehicles (Licensing of Operators) Act 1995, after paragraph (d) there shall be inserted— (dd) in permitting goods vehicles operators to establish an operating centre the traffic commissioner is satisfied that the centre is available, suitable and of sufficient capacity and must take into account the suitability of the local public road network for the establishment of such a centre."").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 385, I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 390. Amendment No. 385 relates to goods vehicle operating centres and Amendment No. 390 refers to centres from which buses are operated. Again, these matters were referred to in Standing Committee E in another place.

The amendments place on the traffic commissioner the responsibility for ensuring that the local road network which leads to and from a proposed operating centre is suitable for the purpose of the operation of goods vehicles or, indeed, buses. However, we need to ensure that the traffic commissioner's duties are expanded in that way. I take as an example North Yorkshire. When the matter was raised in another place, we were told that the local planning authorities had sufficient powers to control those activities and that, therefore, there was no need to extend the traffic commissioner's powers to take into account the local highway network.

I am told that in North Yorkshire applications often fall between the county council as a highway authority, the district council as a planning authority and the traffic commissioner. The traffic commissioner may examine a farmyard. He can see that the facilities exist to maintain the lorries properly. He can look at the lane leading from the farmyard to the road and check that it is wide enough and suitable for driving heavy goods vehicles. However, if the farmyard abuts a country lane which is quite unsuitable for driving heavy goods vehicles, there is absolutely nothing that the traffic commissioner can do.

I am told that in North Yorkshire often the premises are ones to which HGVs occasionally come and go. The premises may be an established user. It may not necessarily be a vehicle operating centre, but vehicles come and go to the site to make deliveries. The local authorities find that in planning terms they cannot turn down the access to such a place because it is an established user, and the traffic commissioner has no power to say that it is not a suitable place from which to run a haulage business.

The amendment seeks merely to say that the traffic commissioner, who is an expert in lorry sizes, lorry weights and so on, should be able to take into account whether or not the lane or road is suitable for heavy vehicles.

I have received many letters from various parts of the country where people's lives are being made an absolute misery. Roads are being smashed to pieces and the verges cut back because heavy vehicles are being operated to and from places which are unsuitable for modern haulage operations. It seems to me that a judgment as to the suitability of a road is a matter which comes very much within the purview of a traffic commissioner. He knows what type of vehicles are in question and he knows their height, width and other features.

Amendment No. 390 seeks to insert a similar clause but deals with buses. Again, it states that if an operating centre is set up for a bus, the centre should be suitable for that purpose. In this case, the problem arises from a number of buses being kept almost at the roadside, much to the annoyance of people in the vicinity when the vehicles are started up early in the morning. Again, it seems that because this is essentially a transport matter the traffic commissioner is best fitted to judge whether the premises are suitable.

I ask Ministers to consider carefully whether this small extension to traffic commissioners' duties, which, by the way, the traffic commissioners want, should be granted to them. Professionally, they are by far the most competent people to discharge that duty. I beg to move.

Lord Berkeley

I support both amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. I have also received many representations about unsuitable lorries and buses on local roads. I suppose that that is not surprising when farmers find that their financial situation is not so good as it used to be. They have many outbuildings and occasionally lorries will arrive for delivery or collection of grains which, obviously, must go by road. I believe that irritation arises when that activity is converted into a business.

As the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said, serious problems are caused with regard to quality of life and, most importantly, to road safety. I believe that particular problems arise in some of the more outlying parts of the country; for example, in Devon, Cornwall and probably Kent. East Anglia also has a similar problem with regard to roads. I believe that these two small amendments could make life a great deal easier for local residents by improving the quality of life in the countryside.

8.45 p.m.

Earl Attlee

I understand the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, but I am slightly concerned as to where new operators are to locate affordable premises as operating centres.

Lord Whiny

I understand the problem to which my noble friend Lord Berkeley and the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, refer. However, we must be clear as to what is the appropriate role for the traffic commissioners, the highways authority and the planning authority. The noble Lord refers to North Yorkshire where, he claims, matters fall between three stools. However, we are considering the effect of generated traffic on the road system. That is an issue faced frequently by both highways authorities and planning authorities. The two tiers of government deal with such problems all the time, not only in the case of transport operations but in relation to factories and other planning permissions. I believe that it is inappropriate to put that type of problem on to the traffic commissioners when essentially they are issues which relate to planning, traffic and roads. The traffic commissioners have a wide range of duties to perform in assessing whether an operating centre is suitable. Basically, those duties relate to the business, safety and environmental effects on the vicinity and on the residents. I believe that it would be extending their duties too far if they were asked to take on what are essentially planning functions. Those are matters for local planning authorities.

Amendment No. 390 effectively seeks to apply similar criteria to the siting of operating centres for PSVs as apply in relation to goods vehicles. That is a different situation. I accept that at present traffic commissioners have no powers to refuse to grant a PSV licence on the basis of the adequacy of an operating centre. I recognise the logic that lies behind the noble Lord's amendment in trying to establish an equivalent in relation to goods vehicles.

However, again, when local authorities determine applications for planning permission, they have powers under the town and country planning legislation to take account of the wider issues of the possible problems created by goods vehicles on the highway network. Powers also exist under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 to prohibit or restrict particular types of vehicle from using local roads on environmental grounds.

Again, I believe that the local authorities are best placed to take decisions on those issues. Their current powers are sufficient to address the concerns in relation to bus operating centres in the local area. Therefore, I believe that it is not appropriate to extend the traffic commissioners' powers in that respect; nor is it appropriate to establish an equivalence between what are a relatively small number of bus operating centres and the provisions which apply to even a one-lorry operating centre for HGV businesses. I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Bradshaw

I thank the Minister for his reply, which again I find extremely disappointing. If an application is made for a licence, the traffic commissioner has to go and inspect the premises and the road leading from the yard to the main road. It seems to me that he is the best qualified person to judge environmental and safety issues, which he is required to do as a matter of course.

The Minister's disappointing answer will be bitterly resented in many country areas, where such traffic causes great distress. I point out to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, that there are plenty of places on industrial estates and elsewhere where haulage businesses can and should be located. I am concerned about their location in patently unsuitable areas down narrow country lanes.

I am very disappointed by the Minister's answer and I may come back to the issue, but in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 386 to 390 not moved.]

Clause 256 agreed to.

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 391:

After Clause 256, insert the following new clause—