HC Deb 28 June 1974 vol 875 cc68-70W
Mr. Alec Jones

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he can now say more about his future plans for the roads programme; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Mulley

As I announced on 3rd April—[Vol. 871, c. 1252]—I am now satisfied that, after making full allowance for a substantial shift of freight and passenger traffic from road to rail, a continuing national road programme is necessary on both economic and environmental grounds. This expenditure will be at a reduced level in real terms.

A national network of better roads will help us to reduce accidents, improve conditions for those who live alongside our existing roads, and divert heavy lorry traffic away from towns and villages on to roads suitable for them. It will also promote economic growth by saving fuel costs and linking major centres of population and industry to ports and airports.

With these objectives in mind I have reviewed the priorities for the road programme within the resources likely to be available over the next few years. Provision for new works on motorways and trunk roads in England in the year ended March 1974 was £222 million—November 1972 prices. Provision for new works in the current year is £213 million—November 1973 prices. Priority will be given to schemes aimed particularly at the needs of heavy lorries and which would also meet the other wider commercial, social and environmental objectives of a national road programme. This stage—totalling some 3,100 miles—of a national network of high-quality roads should be completed by the early 1980s and is the background against which I shall issue shortly a consultative paper on the measures that may be taken to minimise the impact of the heavy lorry.

I have also looked carefully at the standards we should in future adopt in the design of new roads. The amount of traffic that each form of road layout can safely handle is now found to be greater—thanks to improvements in vehicle performance and driver behaviour—than is provided for in my Department's present design figures. I am accordingly arranging for future designs to use these higher flow capacities. This will mean, for example, in some cases a dual two-lane road may be appropriate instead of a dual three-lane road on present standards or, in a few cases, a single rather than a dual carriageway. In all cases we shall plan to provide for the predicted traffic flow for the next 15 years.

Taken with some other detailed changes in design assumptions, this will result in a rather lower standard of service at peak periods; but conditions in off-peak periods will be as good as those now experienced on most modern roads of equivalent type. All in all it will be cheaper to build roads to the new standards and less land will be needed.

A technical memorandum is being issued to local authorities that will enable them to take the new standards into account in formulating their own road proposals.

Water Authority Water divisions/water company areas Non-measured supplies pence in £ Measured supplies pence per 1,000 gallons
1973–74 1974–75 1973–74 1974–75
Thames Cotswold 6.0 5.5 22.5 30.5
Thames Valley 2.3 3.7 16.7 26.7
Metropolitan 2.4 2.9 23.5 28.3
West Surrey 3.8 5.3 22.5 29.1
Middle Thames 2.9 3.9 20.0 30.0
Oxfordshire 4.5 6.0 31.0 35.0

Certain organisational changes are also being made. The Department's regional offices will now have a more important rôle in relation to the work of the road construction units, thus ensuring that their work continues to develop in the context of the Department's wider objectives and policies.