HL Deb 20 June 2000 vol 614 cc152-4

2.52 p.m.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil asked Her Majesty's Government:

Why they have not yet been able to make the appropriate orders in pursuance of their undertaking to implement Section 74 of the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston)

My Lords, on 5th April Ministers announced the Government's intention to implement Section 74 of the New Roads and Street Works Act to charge utilities for overstaying. We are now working with utilities and highways authorities to develop a scheme and we expect to have it ready by the end of July. We intend to consult on the enabling regulations over the summer and lay them for affirmative resolution before the end of this Session. The scheme will then be started as soon as possible provided, of course, that Parliament approves the regulations.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, I must confess that I am slightly grateful. Does, the Minister understand how welcome his presence is at the Dispatch Box today, indicating just a tiny bit of progress and demonstrating that his noble friend Lord Sainsbury meant what he said on 5th April? It is a great relief to us all.

I ask a very simple question. I try to understand the ways of government. Of course, it may be through old age that I am not so quick as I was, but for the life of me I cannot understand why it is that governments who seek to be popular do not take every opportunity, and the powers currently available, to discourage those who persistently make a mess of our roads and a nuisance of themselves?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, before I answer the noble Lord, perhaps I may congratulate those noble Lords who today succeeded in navigating the roadworks of Westminster encountered when cycling from my ministry to Parliament.

I agree with the noble Lord. This matter excites exasperation in all of us. However, the response must be in keeping with the problem. There are differing opinions on the situation. Our consultation received 160 responses: 48 per cent were in favour of full lane rental, as is the noble Lord. However, 32 per cent were against. As we go through the consultative period we want to hear the views of the utilities and those who might have the charges passed to them, as well as the concerns of the highway authorities and others.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, does the Minister agree that nothing is more infuriating than for one set of streetworks to be completed by one utility and for the same stretch of road then to be dug up by another? Does the noble Lord welcome the initiative by the Central London Partnership taken this morning in the publication of its document Making Streetworks Work which recommends that in future there should be trench sharing rather than trench warfare?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, we welcome the various initiatives taken in this area, in particular any initiative which would clear the flow of traffic in central London. The campaign to which my noble friend refers aims to ensure that when the principal routes in central London are being worked on, alternative routes must be kept clear. I believe that this affects 120 key roads in London. Neighbouring authorities and utilities will have to ensure that they keep the same routes free of major works when other major works are being undertaken in the vicinity. Ideally, they should aim to avoid digging up a road again for at least a year after any major works.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

My Lords, will the Government consider compelling hole diggers to meet the cost of traffic wardens or some form of traffic control to relieve the type of congestion which one saw this morning at the important junction at Gloucester Road? Two totally unrelated contractors succeeded in nullifying the effect of the entire lighting system.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, I take the point about intelligent deployment of any moneys raised in the charging packages. A key element of the package that we hope to introduce under Section 74 would be the level of charges. It has been suggested that the illustrative charges might be £500 per day for traffic-sensitive streets and perhaps £100 on other roads. Another option is perhaps to double those figures in central London. Those charges have to be viewed against the turnover of the utilities involved and whether they would be passed on to consumers. Noble Lords may be assured that highway authorities are able to keep charges from Section 74 schemes and could deploy them, therefore, as the noble Lord suggests. However, it is worth remembering that if the scheme is effective, the income should be small.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes

My Lords, the Minister's words seem like a breath of fresh air. Can the noble Lord say why more intensive information has not been given and followed with regard to the technology which uses a microprocess to lay the cables, which would otherwise disturb our roads? The process already exists. It is widely used in Canada. Only a keyhole, as it were, has to be dug. What advances are being made in that area?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, I cannot tell your Lordships what advances are being made in that form of technology. However, I shall make inquiries and report back.

We have a new form of notification where the utilities are expected to send via the Internet notices of works to the highway authorities involved. It is known as electronic transfer of notices or, in an acronym which will sound familiar to some, ETON.