HC Deb 05 March 1991 vol 187 cc92-3W
Mr. Cormack

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what the next stage in the Government's policy of encouraging privately-financed roads infrastructure will be.

Mr. Rifkind

The Government are committed to greater use of the private sector in providing transport infrastructure. I have now decided to seek views on the suitability of the western orbital route for a private finance competition.

The scheme has been planned hitherto as a public sector road. But I believe that the private sector should be given the opportunity to play the leading role in designing, planning, building and operating this road and financing it by tolls paid by the motorist. Of course, the Government are concerned to achieve the most cost effective provision of roads, and so will choose the option which offers better value for money. The costs and benefits of private sector proposals for the western orbital route will therefore be compared with those of the public sector alternative.

Private sector involvement can provide the opportunity for more and better transport provision, relieving congestion whilst safeguarding the environment. Market disciplines should lead to greater efficiency and innovation. The private sector costs would not be subtracted from total public sector provision.

There will be full safeguards for the environment and for local people, if a private sector scheme goes ahead. The Department of Transport will be looking for proposals for a privately financed road on broadly the same route as that already announced.

Extensive environmental protection, including sensitive landscaping, would be a dominant feature of the proposed public sector scheme. Any private sector scheme would be required to achieve the same environmental standards, and a full environment assessment carried out.

If the privately-funded scheme goes ahead authorisation will be sought under the new procedures proposed under the New Roads and Street Works Bill. This means that those affected by the road would have the same opportunities to voice their opinions as if the road were a public scheme. And the arrangements for compensation of owners of land or property would be exactly the same as if the scheme were publicly-funded.

I would aim for a private sector road to be completed at approximately the same time as the public sector scheme, that is towards the end of the 1990s.

This is a major new opportunity for the private sector to provide roads, and good news for the west midlands. It shows that the private finance initiative goes from strength to strength. I look forward to seeing an imaginative response from industry to get this road built as quickly as possible.

The positive benefits of this scheme are enormous. It would reduce congestion on the existing M5 and M6, and improve access to the western side of the west midlands conurbation, and therefore assist in the economic regeneration of the inner city areas, particularly in the black country.

We would ensure that the positive benefits of this route for the west midlands are protected by seeking from bidders a road which achieves the objective of relieving the present M5 and M6 within the conurbation and provides better connections to the national motorway system for Dudley and Wolverhampton.