HC Deb 18 May 1989 vol 153 cc305-8W
Sir Hector Monro

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he will increase resources for the trunk road programme in Scotland; and what proposals he has to alter his current policies and plans.

Mr. Rifkind

I refer to the statement made today by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, announcing major developments in his motorway and trunk road programme. I particularly welcome his decision to place the main immediate priority in England on widening the M6, M1 and M25 motorways. These roads are Scotland's essential links to the major markets in the south and Europe.

The road programme in Scotland will benefit substantially from the expanded programme announced today. As with England and Wales, of course detailed decisions about funding levels for particular years will be taken in the course of annual reviews of public expenditure. Under the normal formula arrangements the Scottish block will receive each year an equivalent share of the additional funds.

I place major emphasis on improving inter-urban roads in Scotland. I have already announced that I am making additional funds available for national trunk roads over the current year and some 25 per cent. more for new construction for the following two financial years. I now expect to be in a position to increase roads spending substantially further in future years reflecting the Government's commitment to improved roads infrastructure. Currently we have in preparation a formidable programme of schemes and studies.

The financing of roads is no longer a matter solely for the Government. There is also a role for private finance to play in road provision in the future in Scotland as in England, where my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has said in his White Paper that he will be putting forward proposals on this question shortly.

My right hon. Friend's White Paper also announced today new road traffic forecasts which are relevant to the standard of roads needed and to the estimates of their economic return. These new traffic forecasts will be applied similarly to planned Scottish road improvements.

I shall outline how we are currently proposing to spend the available resources. Our largest single project is the planned M74 Glasgow to Carlisle motorway which will link with the M6, M1 and M25 routes. This project was announced in 1987: it alone expanded the trunk road programme by around 40 per cent. My Department has been working to a highly ambitious timetable to prepare this 100km of motorway and I now expect that advance works will start next year and, if progress continues will, even main works.

To this end I am announcing today the first two schemes, one at either end of the A74 in Scotland. The northernmost scheme runs from Millbank to just north of Abington. The second scheme is the section from Gretna to Kirkpatrick Fleming. Development of these "fast-track" schemes will run ahead of the general development of the rest of the route. The consultants are finalising their reports for the whole length to be upgraded. Once these reports have been studied, we propose in the late summer or autumn to consult on a proposed preferred route for the whole road.

A key issue is whether M74 schemes should be dual-two lane or dual-three lane standard. My Department has carefully assessed the two schemes that I have announced today in the light of the additional costs of dual-three lane over dual-two lane, the new higher traffic levels expected and the implications for disruption of traffic during the construction period. Following this full assessment, it is proposed that these two schemes will be built to dual-three lane standard. The standard to which subsequent schemes will be built will similarly be considered on their particular merits.

A further motorway priority is completion of the central Scotland network. Some eight major motorway schemes are now being progressed rapidly. One is the M8 from Newbridge to the Edinburgh bypass. This is urgently required and I hope that firm proposals can be published this summer with a view to construction starting about two years thereafter.

On the M80, advance works are well under way on the Stepps bypass, which will mark the start of three major schemes that will complete the motorway from Stirling to Glasgow. There are four other major motorway proposals at an advanced stage of preparation on the periphery of Glasgow. On the A77 several schemes are planned to complete the dual carriageway between Glasgow and Ayr.

Important though the motorway network is to the economy of Scotland, the Government will continue to place equal priority on improving the whole 2,000 miles of trunk road network throughout Scotland. In recent years this has meant, for example, the improvement of the A9 Perth-Inverness route, the Perth-Dundee-Aberdeen route, and the A75 Euro route to Stranraer.

The top priority now for trunk roads is to make significant enhancements on the A96 Aberdeen-Inverness route to reduce accidents and journey times and to improve driving conditions on the route generally. The Government announced a six-point plan in December which set out a programme of work, current and planned, which will cost at least £70 million.

One hundred miles of route cannot be re-engineered overnight. This programme therefore concentrates on addressing the priority problems first. It does so quickly and effectively. Where traffic flows are high, major schemes have been, are being or will be built. Where there are accidents occurring, remedial schemes are being implemented as a matter of urgency. Already, 30 sites for accident remedial treatment have been identified since the plan was announced and road markings are to be thoroughly overhauled. Where lack of overtaking opportunities are causing long queues of traffic, frustration and delays, we have instructed the regional council to plan to include regular safe overtaking stretches.

The precise extent of further new schemes to improve the A96 and the speed with which they can now be implemented will depend in part on the actual amounts of new money which will become available from year to year following today's statement. I am pleased today however to be able to announce that major and early progress can be achieved. A key part of the six-point plan was to accelerate preparation of the major schemes so that they could be built if money were to become available from slippage elsewhere in the programme. I can now say that funds will be available for these major A96 schemes as soon as they are prepared. Further, in the light of both the new resources likely to be available and of the new traffic forecasts announced today, I will now be considering further significant improvements to the A96 which might be appropriate.

The trunk road programme now contains major schemes to improve almost all roads in the trunk road network. Further schemes will be added as studies identifying requirements are completed. In particular, my Department is about to recdeive final assessments from the "Routes South of Edinburgh" study. Before I make a final decision on the way forward in the light of the study, it is my intention to issue a consultation paper detailing the options which have emerged and inviting comment from a wide range of interests. I hope to be able to issue the consultation paper during the summer.

I have also decided to instigate a further study to ensure that both trunk and other key principal roads, the vital links between major centres of Scotland, are in the best possible shape to meet the demands of the latter part of this century and into the next. No network wide general review of traffic flows, pressure points and potential to enhance development has been carried out for some time. If roads investment is to be substantially increased—and it is—it is critical to be sure that the money will be spent in the right places. It is particularly necessary, therefore, to review the situation now. The regional councils will have a role to play in this and my Department will be consulting them to discuss the way forward.

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