HL Deb 08 May 2002 vol 634 cc1140-2

2.45 p.m.

Lord Geddes asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress has been made towards reducing the disruption to road users caused by roadworks and encouraging the co-ordination of roadworks; and whether they consider such progress to be satisfactory.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Lord Falconer of Thoroton)

My Lords, we are determined to reduce disruption from works in the street. Last April, we introduced powers allowing highway authorities to levy charges on utility works that are not completed to deadline. We are also piloting powers allowing authorities to levy lane rental on utilities for the duration of the works.

Lord Geddes

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Do Her Majesty's Government concur with the conclusion of the Institution of Civil Engineers, which recently reported that the backlog of necessary maintenance work had reached record levels, in excess of £7 billion? It was calculated that the problem would take more than eight years to rectify, ignoring any new holes in the road.

In the light of the Minister's reference to lane rentals and fines, is it not curious that local authorities and highway authorities, which together represent more than 50 per cent of those who make holes in the road, are under no financial strictures? Fines and lane rentals are paid to local authorities. Who will check up on the authorities themselves?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I am not acquainted with the figures that the noble Lord gave for the amount of maintenance required. However, as he knows, the Government are providing over £30 billion for local road maintenance over the time-scale of the 10-year transport plan. That is £9 billion above the funding level for the previous 10 years. There is an important issue to deal with there.

As the noble Lord knows, there are lane rentals and there is overcharging, both of which are designed to improve co-ordination and reduce disruption as much as possible. That gets at some of the offenders. It is important that co-ordination improves and that the Government should set out examples of good practice and put pressure on local authorities to improve standards.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that one of the difficulties is that the roadworks are there, causing disruption, but there is nobody doing any work? Sometimes, I think that workmen on those sites are an endangered species or a collector's item. Can we find a way of ensuring that, when the necessary roadworks are there, people get on with it?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, like my noble friend, I have seen such roadworks on many occasions. Pressure should be put on, and there should be a sense that the works must be done in the most efficient way possible, as quickly as possible. Otherwise, people get utterly fed up.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords—

Lord Bradshaw

My Lords—

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, this is a constitutional occasion. The noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, always asks a question about holes in the road.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, as always, I am deeply obliged to the noble and learned Lord.

I thank my noble friend Lord Geddes for raising the matter. Is the Minister aware that such efforts as I have been able to make to diminish this important nuisance have, so far, had the notable but totally unwelcome effect of stimulating those responsible into digging more holes and leaving them unoccupied for longer than ever before? Can the Minister advise me on what I can do to persuade the Government to join the right side—for once—and attempt to curb that increasing nuisance?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, most of my oral briefing on the question related to the gargantuan efforts made by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, to deal with the problem.

What can be done about it? The more the issue is kept to the fore, the more pressure there is on the people engaged, the local authorities and the utilities to do the work as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Lord Bradshaw

My Lords, bus operators are summoned increasingly frequently before the traffic commissioners to explain the unreliability of their service. Will the Minister ensure that local authorities are also summoned to explain what they are doing about roadworks and other causes of unreliability, such as traffic congestion?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I share the noble Lord's concern that local authorities are major players in the extent to which roads are disrupted. I will pass on the noble Lord's suggestion as regards delays in relation to local bus companies.

Lord Davies of Coity

My Lords, while sympathising with the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, is not the real answer to his question that if he is in a hole he should stop digging?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I sympathise with that advice.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes

My Lords, willl the Minister accept that not only are we talking about a nuisance but that once again motorists are being treated with contempt by the Government and those responsible? No one ever gives advice on where the works are being carried on and stopping traffic. It is not necessary to provide printed notices: all that is required is a blackboard and a piece of chalk to put a notice on public display in the right place and at the right time.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I do not believe that the Government are displaying any contempt towards motorists. However, I entirely agree that notice is important. It is important to inform people about what is happening, why and how long it will take.

Baroness Platt of Writtle

My Lords, does the Minister agree that roadworks cause traffic jams, which do not help the greener environment but cause pollution? We need to get that message across to the public in general and to the local authorities in particular so that they do not set up so many roadworks at the same time.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I agree that roadworks almost invariably cause traffic congestion and that that is bad for a variety of reasons, including the pollution it causes. However, we are introducing charges for over-running the timetable and lane rentals in order to try to reduce what we all agree is a terrible problem.

Lord Rotherwick

My Lords, does the Minister agree that in Oxfordshire at present twice as many deaths are caused by pollution coming mainly from traffic as are caused by road accidents?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I was not aware of the figures in relation to Oxfordshire.