HC Deb 06 June 1996 vol 278 cc532-4W
Sir David Mitchell

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport (1) what are the implications for the Newbury bypass of the discovery of the snail Vertigo moulinsiana in the area; [32065]

(2) when the Highways Agency expects to award the main contract for the Newbury bypass; and if he will make a statement. [32066]

Mr. Rendel

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport (1) which contractor has won the main contract for the construction of the Newbury bypass; [31360]

2. which contractor has won the contract for archaeological work on the route of the Newbury bypass; [31361]

3. what measures he expects the Highways Agency to take to replace any snail habitat lost through the construction of the Newbury bypass. [31364]

Mr. Watts

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment explains today in a separate answer to the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel) that public consultation is now under way on a formal recommendation by English Nature, made through the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, that various locations in the Kennet and Lambourn valleys be considered as a possible candidate for designation in due course as a special area of conservation under European directive 92/43/EEC—the habitats directive—following the discovery of large populations of the species Vertigo moulinsiana, Desmoulin's whorl snail, in these locations.

One of the locations in question, Bagnor island, is due to be crossed by the Newbury bypass. Part of another area, Speen moor, will be affected by it. My right hon. Friend and I have accordingly considered JNCC's recommendation and the implications for the bypass.

The provisions of regulations 50 to 53 of the Conservation (Natural Habitats &c) Regulations 1994, review of existing decisions and consents, do not apply in the case of this site which is not yet a "European site" as defined by the regulations, nor is it yet subject to the policy protection which the Government apply to candidate SACs from the time when they are proposed to the Commission. However, in the light of the acknowledged conservation value of the site, my right hon. Friend and I have considered whether the bypass can proceed in a manner which is consistent with the conservation objectives of the directive.

The site recommended by JNCC consists of a cluster of eight separate locations, six of which are unaffected by the proposed bypass. The conservation objectives of the recommended SAC in the Kennet and Lambourn floodplain would be to seek to ensure that a large and viable overall population of the snail was maintained in the area. English Nature and the Highways Agency have discussed measures to achieve these conservation objectives. Porous asphalt will be used to minimise spray and the discharge of run-off will be controlled to reduce pollution. A number of further measures which can be implemented by the Highways Agency have been agreed in principle with English Nature. These will reduce the extent of snail habitat which would otherwise be destroyed by the road, together with other measures to maintain the conservation status of the snail in the area. Areas of new habitat are planned which will be much greater than those lost. The main measures are detailed in paragraphs 4.3 and 4.4 (option 2A) in the report "A34 Newbury Bypass—Impact of the A34 on Vertigo Moulinsiana and Opportunities for Mitigation—May 1996", copies of which have been placed in the Library. English Nature considers that, subject to further detailed discussion, these measures, if successfully implemented, should maintain the overall snail populations within the Kennet and Lambourn floodplain, and extend the distribution of the snail within the area where these measures are to be carried out.

My right hon. Friend and I are in any case satisfied that there are no alternative solutions and that there are imperative reasons of overriding public interest for proceeding with the proposed bypass.

Both the need for the bypass and the choice of route were established following the statutory procedures set out in the Highways Act 1980, which included two public inquiries. In addition to these procedures, my right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State for Transport announced his conclusion on the choice of route following a further assessment in 1995. The assessment took into account changes in appraisal techniques and local circumstances, as well as new traffic and economic data since the public inquiries and the subsequent statutory decision to go ahead with a western bypass. He considered carefully the balance between all the options and concluded that the proposed route was the most effective solution for Newbury. Having considered the new information about Vertigo moulinsiana, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and I are satisfied that it does not change the balance of the weight of evidence, including environmental evidence, in favour of this particular route. As I have already explained, new measures will be adopted with the aim of reducing the effects of the road on the snail population.

The imperative reasons for overriding public interest for proceeding with the bypass are environmental, social and economic. In particular:

  • the bypass will relieve the severe environmental problems along the existing A34 in the town including noise and reduced air quality. At present, around 50,000 vehicles per day use the A34 through Newbury. This figure could increase to 78,000 by the year 2010 if the bypass is not built. In particular, the bypass will reduce heavy lorry traffic through Newbury by up to about 70 per cent.;
  • it will improve road safety. Over the next 30 years, we estimate that 28 lives will be saved, and an estimated 370 serious casualties and 1420 less serious injuries will be avoided;
  • it will aid the economy. The A34 is an important route nationally, linking the North and the Midlands with the ports of Southampton and 534 Portsmouth. But high traffic volumes are causing long tailbacks and delays and these are getting worse. At peak times queues can extend over five miles either side of the town. The bypass will relieve a serious bottleneck on this important trunk road.

Extensive reviews of the trunk road programme in 1994 and 1995 have confirmed the need for the bypass.

My right hon. Friend and I are satisfied that the proposed course of action is consistent with the conservation objectives of the habitats directive. We have concluded after careful consideration that the bypass should proceed without further delay, and I instructed the Highways Agency to let the main contract for its construction.

Accordingly the main contract for the construction of the bypass has been awarded to Costain Civil Engineering Ltd. York Archaeological Trust has been awarded the contract for archaeological work along the route.

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