HC Deb 30 October 1990 vol 178 cc462-4W
Mr. Flynn

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on environmental protection and pollution abatement policies introduced by his Department since 1979.

Mr. McLoughlin

[holding answer 25 October 1990]: Since 1979 the Department of Transport has been working hard to protect the environment across the whole range of transport activities. Following are some examples:

Public Transport: We are encouraging public transport so that individuals have an alternative to using cars. We are supporting massive investment in rail£3.7 billion in British Rail and £2.2 billion in London Transport over this financial year and the next two. We are prepared to consider grants for light rail schemes in appropriate cases. The £120 million first phase of the Manchester light rapid transit scheme has been approved, with substantial Exchequer grant. The traffic management and parking proposals for London, including the development of red routes, will help buses to provide better and more reliable services. Between 1985–86, when local bus services were deregulated, and 1988–89 local bus mileage increased by 16 per cent. in Great Britain.

Traffic Management: We have a wide-ranging programme of research and development to improve the techniques of urban traffic management and parking control. This includes work on the provision of better facilities for pedestrians, pedal cyclists and bus operations, more sophisticated systems for co-ordinating traffic lights to prevent congestion and more effective techniques for charging for parking and enforcing waiting restrictions.

Roads: We have built over a hundred bypasses since 1979 which have provided much-needed relief to local communities. We have developed methods of environmental appraisal of roads which anticipated by several years the European Community directive on environmental impact assessment. We have developed the use of indigenous species for the plating and screening of roads. The Department of Transport already plants over 2 million trees each year and this number is set to increase substantially. We have started the funding of English heritage for rescue archaeology. We have appointed consultants to advise on the best landscape and environmental practice on schemes for motorway widening and new trunk roads, and intend also to improve the landscape and appearance of existing roads, especially in urban areas.

Lead in Petrol: We have introduced regulations to reduce the maximum permitted lead content of leaded petrol by two thirds. We have successfully urged the EC to introduce unleaded petrol, which has been generally available in this country for some years now. Encouraged by the increasing duty differentials in its favour, well over one third of all petrol sold in this country is now unleaded. This proportion should continue to climb steadily, as new cars must now be able to run on unleaded petrol.

Vehicle Emissions: We have participated actively in discussions within the EC about controls on vehicle emissions and vehicle noise. These discussions have led to the adoption of much stricter gaseous emission standards for cars in recent years. We are now pressing for the strictest standards being proposed anywhere in the world for gaseous and particular emissions from goods vehicles and buses. As part of the Government's strategy to encourage motorists to seek greater fuel economy, we have already decided to issue better guidance to drivers and to take measures to enforce speed limits more effectively. The proposed emissions check in the MOT test will also have benefits in terms of fuel economy. Noise limits are also much stricter. The noise a new heavy lorry is permitted to make now is roughly half the level permitted in 1980.

Road Freight: We have pressed hard within the EC for the lifting of restrictions on road freight cabotage to reduce the need for empty running. Since July 1990 cabotage has been allowed for the first time under special permits. We shall now press for full cabotage liberalisation. The introduction in 1983 of increased lorry weights from 32 to 38 tonnes has saved 10,000 lorries and reduced lorry traffic by 530 million miles. Since 1979 we have paid £53 million under the freight facilities grant scheme to encourage the transfer of freight from road to rail or water in cases where the commercial decision would have been to use road, but where the transfer has offered environmental benefits. During this period we estimate that, as a result of these grants, over 2.5 million lorry journeys a year have been saved.

Aviation: We have banned older subsonic civil jet aircraft which fail to meet minimum international noise standards and are now in the vanguard of moves to phase out the next noisiest category of aircraft. We have already banned the addition of these types to the United Kingdom register from 1 November 1990. In addition, we ensure that good noise reduction measures are employed at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, the three airports where we have direct responsibility for noise from aircraft landing and taking off. These measures include noise preferential routes, noise insulation grants and night restrictions. We have also implemented international emission standards for aero-engines covering unburnt hydrocarbons, smoke and vented fuel. We are active in international discussions looking at reducing emissions still further.

Shipping: We take an active part in the development and implementation of international marine pollution prevention regulations. Since 1979 we have implemented regulations to reduce the pollution of the sea by oil, noxious liquid substances and garbage. Regulations to control pollution by packaged dangerous goods will shortly enter into force. We are now looking at atmospheric pollution by ships' engine exhaust gas emissions, ozone layer-depleting agents, incineration of dangerous chemical wastes and gas emissions from cargoes. We are also pressing for the liberalisation of shipping cabotage throughout the Community. This will give shipping greater opportunities to compete more successfully with other transport modes, with the consequent environmental benefits that such a transfer of freight will bring. It will also allow ship owners to make the fullest use of their vessels while operating throughout the Community.