HL Deb 30 January 2002 vol 631 cc210-2

2.46 p.m.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, in asking this Question I declare an interest as president of the Motorsport Industry Association.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they expect the Silverstone village bypass on the A43 to be finished in time for the British Grand Prix weekend of 5th to 7th July 2002.

Lord Filkin

My Lords, the Government recognise the importance of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone and want to play an appropriate role to ensure a successful event in 2002. Although we do not anticipate that the bypass will be open to the general public before this year's Grand Prix, action is being taken to ensure that the great majority of it will be available for use from 5th to 7th July to enable Silverstone race traffic to be managed effectively.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging reply. Is he aware that if the whole road is not finished and there is a repeat of last year's traffic chaos, we risk not only losing our largest televised sporting event—which, over a week, puts £40 million into the local economy but also seriously undermining the £5 billion British high-tech motorsport industry?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, yes, the Government are very aware of that, as shown last December when we lent our strong support to retaining the British Grand Prix in the face of its threatened withdrawal by some of our competitors and the FIA arising from last year's difficulties. In the light of that, my honourable friend in another place recently met the Highways Agency, seeking to advance works on the bypass. What can be made available in time for the Grand Prix is currently being discussed with the Highways Agency, which is discussing the issue with its contractor. We are optimistic that, subject to final discussions, we can increase the certainty of works being carried out in time to ensure an extremely successful Grand Prix.

Lord Elder

My Lords, is the state of preparedness of the link road from the bypass to the site well advanced? While my noble friend's comments are encouraging, it is a matter of concern that the link road may not be ready. The two projects go together. Although I appreciate that the matter is principally for the site operator, can my noble friend say whether there has been any progress?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, we emphasised that at the meeting that my honourable friend and I recently held with all the parties, including Octagon. We emphasised that there was little point in the Government making efforts to ensure that our part of the jigsaw was in place unless they contributed theirs. I am certain that they were well seized of that. Nevertheless, we shall be closely monitoring the situation in relation to all parties. Despite the challenges that all parties face, there are extremely good relationships between them.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the Silverstone bypass constitutes just a small part of the improvement of the road between Northampton and Oxford and that much traffic will come to Silverstone from both the south and the north? Therefore, it is not just the Silverstone area which is involved here.

Lord Filkin

My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite correct. It is part of a £56 million major dualling of the A43 trunk road. The review meeting that we held did not identify any other substantial pinchpoints or problems in that respect. Furthermore, there are some fairly sophisticated management plans this year to increase the use of coaches to bring in people at alternative entrances to the site and to manage the car parks vastly better than was the case last year, all of which increases our confidence but not total certainty that all parts of the problem will be cracked this year.

Lord Addington

My Lords, does the Minister accept that failure once again to get infrastructure in place for a major sporting event does not exactly inspire confidence in our ability to do so for any future large-scale sporting occasions?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, in the circumstances, that is a slightly churlish remark given the effort that everyone is making to drive this event forward. I lake the opportunity to nail a few other points as regards the commitment of the Government to promoting the success of the British motorsport industry. As has been signalled, we are a world leader in the design, manufacture and technology of motor sports. The DTI, with the industry, has sought to promote three centres of excellence down what I believe is called "motorsport valley" in the UK to try further to promote the transfer of the successful technology that exists in the motorsport industry to other sectors. In the light of that, the plans for Silverstone and the commitment of the Government to the event, there is no substance in the noble Lord's allegation.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the biggest problem at the previous Grand Prix held at Silverstone was that it rained and cars could not get on or off the course? It had nothing whatever to do with the road system.

Lord Filkin

My Lords, I agree, but it does not give me great comfort to use that argument. Many of the measures I have described have been put in place to ensure that the event is not reliant on good weather. Having said that, it was not just appalling rain in October and November that caused delays. The contract was also stopped for two months due to foot and mouth disease, but in saying that I am not encouraging your Lordships to debate that issue again.

Lord Stewartby

My Lords, do the Government accept that the importance of this matter lies in the fact that if we were to lose the British Grand Prix we would have a tough time trying to get it back and that would inevitably have a major impact on the motorsport industry, as the Minister said? The industry is not only high-tech; more than half its product is exported.

Lord Filkin

My Lords, I strongly agree. Without repeating what I said previously, I echo the noble Lord's comment. The matter is also, of course, of considerable importance to the south Midlands economy—some £28 million-worth of benefits flow into that economy as a result. That is why all parties are working to ensure that the event is a great success this year.