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Column 54110.50 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Colin Moynihan) : I have a very short time in which to respond to many important points, so I hope that the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) will forgive me if I try rapidly to answer as many as possible of the issues that he has brought to the attention of the House.
The comments made by the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) may have been heartfelt, but I regret that none of them was relevant to the money resolution. We are glad to hear that the Social and Liberal Democratic party would not bring the statutory water authorities into public ownership --unlike the commitment given by the Labour party last night, if the Labour party were to come to power again. That serious and important issue has arisen as a result of the debate. The hon. Gentleman referred to all the costs associated with the plcs, such as the importance of upgrading sewage treatment works. That is a matter for the plcs, which will have access to the money markets--access which they do not have at present. That does not come within the money resolution, nor does the debate about European funds. I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to my concluding speech at the half- way point of the debate late yesterday evening when I made a statement on disconnections. I hope that that statement will assist and satisfy him that we are conscious of the importance of an effective disconnections policy, but again I regret that that does not come within the ambit of the money resolution.
All right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House respect and admire the hon. Member for Bradford, South for raising matters on the money resolution. It is important that they are listened to and treated seriously. I hope that I can follow up those aspects which I do not cover in the few remaining minutes by writing to the hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Member for Bradford, South rightly referred to the National Rivers Authority and the grants to it by the Secretary of State. Paragraph 17 to schedule 1 enables the Secretary of State, with the approval of the Treasury, to make grants to the NRA of such amounts, and on such terms, as he considers appropriate. He must, of course, Comptroller and Auditor- General with an account for each financial year of any grant paid and the Comptroller and Auditor-General must then certify and report on that account. As the hon. Gentleman knows, copies of the account and of the Comptroller and Auditor-General's report must be laid before both Houses of Parliament.
The grant-making power will enable grant-in-aid to meet the deficit on the NRA's operations. Although the NRA will be encouraged to maximise its income from direct charges, a deficit will arise largely because the environmental service charge will not be levied after 1989-90. Grant-in-aid is considered a more appropriate method of paying for services which are of benefit to the whole community. Grant will also be required to meet the NRA's administration costs and the costs of increased work on pollution control and research. The public expenditure provisions anticipate grant-in -aid of £40 million in 1989-90, £71 million in 1990-91 and £65 million in 1991-92 when income from discharge consents increases. I emphasise that because it is important for the hon. Gentleman and the House to know that
Column 542detailed consideration will be given to the nature of discharge consents and the charging methods applicable to them. They will represent a substantial form of income to the National Rivers Authority, but it is important for the Committee appointed to consider the Bill to look in detail at the provisions. Obviously, that income deducted from the overall amount is the relevant figure, and that will be far clearer as the NRA sets the appropriate framework for discharge costs.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned a figure of £71 million grant-in-aid from a turnover of £290 million. It is not intended to be additional, but the difference between the two will be raised through the charging procedure. I am sorry that I cannot provide him with a detailed figure of the difference for 1990-91, but, to be absolutely accurate, we need to look very closely at the charging method for discharge consents. As soon as that is available and discussed in Committee we shall be able to draw the precise figures that the hon. Gentleman is seeking.
The payment out of the national loans fund of any sums required by a Minister of the Crown or by virtue of the Act for making loans, while it is wholly owned by the Crown, to a successor company of a water authority or to a holding company of such a company, arises under clause 78. The power to make loans is provided for the period between vesting and flotation, in which the successor company and its nominated holding company might need access to public sector funds. The loan would be made to the nominated holding company, except in the unlikely event that the successor company had not yet become a subsidiary of it. Clause 85 sets limits on the borrowing of the group of companies to which a successor company and its nominating company belong.
In the remaining minutes, I shall address my remarks to the important issue of payments to existing pension funds. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the water authorities participate in the local government superannuation scheme. It is a statutory pension scheme governed by the Local Government Superannuation Regulations 1986, made under section 7 of the Superannuation Act 1972. Pensions payable under the Local Government Superannuation Regulations are official pensions within the meaning of the Pensions (Increase) Act 1971. Pensions of water authority employees are, therefore, index-linked in accordance with statute.
The cost of basic pensions is fully funded, but the cost of pension increases is met not from the superannuation funds but on an emerging cost basis. The administering authority makes the payments and, in general, is reimbursed by the last employing authority. The fund from which basic pensions are paid is the water authority superannuation fund, currently administered by the Severn-Trent water authority on behalf of all participants.
The Government intend that, after the transfer date, the National Rivers Authority will be the administering body for that part of the WASF which remains after the transfer payments described. The NRA will also be made a scheduled body, so that its staff will be able to continue in the LGSS to which I have referred.
I shall briefly mention the issue that the hon. Gentleman raised with regard to clause 4--the Director General of Water Services. The hon. Gentleman concentrated on the £3.7 million--an important figure. Let me try to clarify precisely how we have arrived at it and give some background information to the House.
Column 543As the hon. Gentleman knows, clause 4 provides for the appointment by the Secretary of State of an independent Director General of Water Services. Clause 4 also applies the provisions of schedule 3, which empowers the director general to appoint staff who will form the water services office, subject to the Treasury's approval, and for the payment from public funds of the expenses of the Director and his staff.
The director general, who will have a position similar to those of the present Directors General of Telecommunications and Gas Supply, will be responsible for monitoring the activities and performance of companies appointed as water and sewerage undertakers, and, where necessary, enforcing the conditions in their licences. The director general will have a duty to ensure that customers are protected from unjustified increases in price or reductions in service, while ensuring that companies are able to finance the proper carrying out of their statutory functions. The director general will also exercise a wide range of statutory adjudicatory functions and will establish and maintain up to 10 regional customer service committees to represent consumers' interests locally.
The director general will be supported by a new Government Department in the carrying out of his statutory responsibilities, and this will be similar to the Office of Telecommunications and the Office of Gas Supply and is likely initially to have a staff of 80. For instance, Ofgas has about 30. Approximately 50 will be based in a headquarters, probably outside south-east England, and the remainder will be in local offices servicing the regional customer service committees.
The running costs of the water services office and of the customer services committees for the first full year of operation have been estimated at £3.7 million. The breakdown of that we estimate to be £2.7 million for the water services office and £1 million for the committees. The expenditure should be reimbursed to the Exchequer through the payment by water and sewerage undertakers of their licence fees. Therefore, no net public expenditure should be required.
As I am in my last minute, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be satisfied if I write to him on the important specific points about the special administrator, referred to in clause 24. I hope that I have managed to satisfy the hon. Gentleman on the other points, save one --grants for national security. With the permission of the House and of the hon. Gentleman, I shall write to him on that point as well.
Question put and agreed to.
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Water Bill ( the Act'), it is expedient to authorise--
(1) the payment out of money provided by Parliament of the following, namely--
Column 544(a) grants by the Secretary of State to the National Rivers Authority ;
(b) the remuneration of, and any travelling or other allowances payable under the Act to, the Director General of Water Services and any staff of the Director, any other sums payable under the Act to or in respect of a person who holds or has held office as the Director and any expenses duly incurred by the Director or by any of his staff in consequence of the provisions of the Act ;
(c) the remuneration of the chairman of a customer service committee, any travelling or other allow-ances payable under the Act to such a chairman, to other members of a customer service committee or to members of a sub- committee, any other sums payable under the Act to or in respect of a person who holds or has held office as such a chairman or member and the expenses incurred by a customer service committee ;
(d) grants and loans by the Secretary of State to a water undertaker or sewerage undertaker in relation to which a special administration order has been made ;
(e) sums required by the Secretary of State for making any payment in respect of an indemnity given under the Act to a person appointed to achieve the purposes of a special adminstration order made in relation to a water undertaker or sewerage undertaker ;
(f) expenses incurred by the Treasury or the Secretary of State in acquiring securities of a holding company of a water authority 's successor company or rights to subscribe for any such securities ; (g) compensation payable by the Secretary of State under the Act in respect of the exercise of functions in relation to trade effluent or in respect of loss or damage caused in connection with a power of entry ;
(h) grants in respect of compliance with directions given under the Act in the interests of national security ;
(i) sums required by the Secretary of State for making payments under the Act into any fund maintained for the purposes of any regulations under section 7 of the Superannuation Act 1972 ; (j) sums required by a Minister of the Crown for fulfilling guarantees given under the Act ;
(k) administrative expenses or charges incurred by any Minister of the Crown or Government department in consequence of the provisions of the Act ;
(l) increases attributable to the Act in the sums payable out of money so provided under any other Act ;
(2) the payment out of the National Loans Fund of any sums required by a Minister of the Crown by virtue of the Act for making loans, while it is wholly owned by the Crown, to a successor company of a water authority or to a holding company of such a company ; (3) the reduction of the assets of the National Loans Fund by amounts corresponding to such liabilities of a water authority's successor company, or of a holding company of such a company, in respect of any loans as the Secretary of State may by order extinguish.
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Water Bill, it is expedient to authorise--
(1) the inclusion in appointments of water undertakers or sewerage undertakers made under that Act of conditions requiring the rendering of payments to the Secretary of State ;
(2) the payment of sums into the Consolidated Fund or the National Loans Fund.-- [Mr. Maclean.]
Leicester (Police Officers)
Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) : I wish to present a petition on bahalf of Mr. Mike Preston, Mr. Andrew Palmer, Mrs. Mary Draycott and 9,997 other people, including myself, living in the outer areas of my constituency, in the electoral wards of West Humberstone, Humberstone, Thurncourt, Evington and Coleman, who are deeply concerned about the high levels of crime in the city of Leicester and the need for more police officers in the city.
The petition supports the application by the chief constable of Leicestershire, Michael Hirst, for more police officers and is presented after a year-long campaign for additional officers in the knowledge that the Home Secretary will shortly be announcing his allocation of officers for 1989-90.
The petitioners and I also believe that it is essential to the future of good policing in the outer estates that the Uppingham road police station be opened for a 24-hour period each day and night, and every day and night, so that our citizens, especially the elderly, can be secure.
I hope that the Home Secretary will heed the demands of what amounts to one seventh of my entire constituency and allocate us the additional officers.
To lie upon the Table.
Column 546A27 (Noise Levels)
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Maclean.]
Mr. Anthony Nelson (Chichester) : I welcome this opportunity to raise a serious environmental problem in my constituency--the noise emanating from the new A27 trunk road from Chichester to Havant. The quality of noise as much as its excessive level is quite intolerable for my many constituents living near this stretch of road. It is on their behalf that I speak today.
Every new road brings its reliefs and its problems. This new section of the A27 trunk road was sorely needed and long awaited. The deaths, injuries and traffic congestion along the old route were the source of outcry for many years. Many residents, especially the very young and elderly, in communities along the route were frightened to cross the road. Drivers went in fear of their lives and in certainty of traffic congestion.
When, after long delay and seemingly interminable public inquiries, the new road went ahead, there was great relief in those communities and along the south coast. I know that that view is shared by many hon. Members representing constituencies adjoining my own. Only this evening, I was talking to my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Sir I. Lloyd) whom I see in his place, and my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall), both of whom have taken a close interest in this matter because of the relevance to their own constituents. My hon. Friend the Minister came down to open the new section of road on 19 August this year and we thank him for doing so. He will remember the very warm reception that he received on that occasion. However, few appreciated at that time, least of all myself, driving up the new road for the first time in a rather elderly car with him, just how noisy the new road would be when modern traffic in the volume and speed that it adopts used it to full effect, but, unfortunately, our worst fears have been exceeded.
I have with me some 200 or more letters from my constituents, complaining in strong terms about the noise and calling for resurfacing or remedial measures to be taken. This is the catalogue of human distress. This is the file of distress that my constituents have suffered and about which they have written to me in such graphic terms over the past couple of months. Many of them are reasonable people, not given to extremism or complaining lightly, but they feel that the noise, while expected to some extent, has proved to be excessive and quite unbearable. Many of them describe the roar to which they are constantly subjected as similar to that from an aircraft runway, especially when heavy goods vehicles pass by, as they frequently do.
Many are unable to enjoy their gardens or peace and quiet inside their homes. Many cannot sleep at night. Many have suffered a reduction in the market value of their homes, even though most neither wish nor intend to sell and leave the area. For many of my constituents, the quality of their life has changed materially, and for the worse, since this new section of road opened. In short, their peace has been shattered. They look to my hon. Friend to alleviate this problem urgently and to find the funds necessary.
Column 547I take from this file a couple of letters which are indicative of the representations that I have received every day from my constituents and about which they have been to see me. I quote first from a letter from Mr. Nightingale of Cemetery lane, Woodmancote, Emsworth. He says :
"Living at the above address, I would like to point out that the peace and quiet of my home, garden, and environments have been destroyed by the noise from the new A27 trunk road, which passes at 80 metres distance from my bungalow. I very much hope that something can be done to alleviate the noise problem and thus relieve my suffering. I would also like to point out that when the wind is blowing in my direction, I can actually smell the fumes and exhaust from the road."
Mr. Cyril Baker writes to me from Scant road in Hambrook, saying : "Being an O.A.P. and property owner, thus a rate payer, I am writing to you regarding the constant noise created since the opening of the new A27 Trunk Road which passes through the field opposite the front of my property. Not only has the value of my property depreciated but as my bedroom is in the front of the bungalow I find it impossible to sleep. Even in my back garden I can no longer enjoy peace and quiet. Your co-operation regarding this matter would be appreciated."
Richard Stafford from West Ashling writes to me :
"I know you are trying to remedy the intrusion that the roar' of this road has brought to the peace and quiet of these parts. Please persuade the Department to do something. We must live mile away and the whine continues day and night ; life for the people closer must be intolerable."
Mrs. Sheila Frampton, writing from Fraser gardens in Southbourne, says ;
"I write to express extreme unhappiness with the noise levels of the above. The unceasing traffic noise is both distressing and irritating. It is an ever-present noise even more obvious at 3 a.m. than it is at 3 p.m."
My constituents are obviously distressed, and I make no apology for reading out what they have said to me, because this is indicative of the real distress that is caused to individuals' lives--people's homes, the quiet and privacy of their environment, which they enjoy and for which they have paid a great deal of money. I believe that my hon. Friend--I hope that he will accept this obligation--will reply in sympathetic terms and offer some redress or alleviation of their plight.
I first raised the question of the type of road surface and the noise implications with my hon. Friend some years ago, following representations from a number of constituents who were apprehensive about the use of the concrete surface. As always, my hon. Friend was courteous and assiduous in his reply. On 15 July 1987, he said to me :
"as far as road surface noise is concerned our general experience has been that surfaces of brushed concrete do not produce noisier roads than bituminous surfaces designed to give traffic the same level of skid resistance."
I have to tell my hon. Friend that neither I nor my constituents believe this to be the case. I have been to hear for myself the noise and disturbance with which my constituents are being asked to put up.
I have visited residents and communities along the new route, with local councillors and representatives of the new A27 action steering group, which consists of residents associations of Fishbourne, Hanbrook, Woodmancote, Lumley and Emsworth. In my view, the noise results from excessive grooving or depths of brushing in the concrete road surface. It is not the noise emanating from the engines of vehicles but the noise of the tyres on the rough surface, which so permeates the countryside and so disturbs my constituents.
Column 548Interestingly, the noise varies greatly with the wind direction and the weather conditions. For some of my constituents, on occasion it can hardly be heard at all, and on others, it is distinct and permeates not only their properties but the structure of their buildings. There are some instances where properties on stretches of road where there is a great deal of curvature have a combination of noise effects that is extremely disturbing, I have visited some of my constituents in some of these homes. Although the noise varies with wind direction, it can be heard over suprising distances. I stood close to the A27 dual carriageway at Havant, which carries the same volume of traffic, but is surfaced in asphalt, and the noise level there is insignificant in comparison. Similarly, when driving along the road, the surface is noticeably quieter when on the asphalt sections over bridges and culverts.
I understand from my correspondence with my hon. Friend that the Department of Transport's specification for the surface finish of brushed concrete provides that the average texture depth shall not be less than 0.75 mm, as determined by what is known as a sand patch test. I believe that that is a somewhat archaic method, given the new laser facilities for assessing surface depths, but it is the one that is used and, presumably, it is regarded by the authorities as being reliable. That minimum surface depth is to ensure that there is sufficient skid resistance. From inspecting the road myself, it is apparent that the texture depth is much deeper in places and the unevenness in some parts appears to be similar to mini potholes. The A27 action group has today delivered to me its own measurements of the surface texture depth. Those measurements were taken by an assiduous constituent at daybreak on a Sunday three weeks ago, while his wife kept a lookout for passing traffic. That was somewhat beyond the call of duty, but it has been helpful to the debate. By using the same sand patch test method, he found that the mean surface texture depth was some 30 per cent. more than the present guidelines advise and, in the worse cases, was some 60 per cent. more.
In his letter to me of 18 November 1988, my hon. Friend the Minister, said that on this scheme the sand patch test results varied generally from 0.9 mm to 1.9 mm, with an average result of 1.3 mm. Even that is nearly double the minimum specification and in my judgment is much deeper on some parts of the road. Those parts of the road where it is much deeper give rise to noise and permeating noise, which is quite intolerable for my constituents.
I ask my hon. Friend whether there is a maximum texture depth specified and, if not, why not? That is of importance not just in my area, but throughout the country where new roads are being built.
Mr. Michael Marshall (Arundel) : My hon. Friend will accept that he is doing a great service, not just for his constituency, but nationally. He will know, of course, of the new plans for the A27 at Crossbush and at Arundel. I hope that my hon. Friend will urge our hon. Friend the Minister to assure us that the point that he is making will apply to the new extensions of the road allied to his own schemes and, especially, in the selection of tarmac rather than concrete as a principle.
Column 549It does have relevance to other parts of the country as well as to my constituency. There is great concern that perhaps
economies--reasonably and understandably being sought in the roads programme--may have an adverse impact on the environment and noise. Crossbush, which we discussed before this debate, is an important example. Therefore, I believe that other communities will be listening with great interest to my hon. Friend's reply.
The planning inspector's report on this road back in 1984, at paragraph 79.03, said :
"In order not to introduce more noise than is necessary into the lives of affected communities. I request that a major factor in the choice of road surface for this route should be its property to generate the minimum amount of traffic noise."
To which the Secretaries of State responded on 12 June 1985 in paragraph 42 that
"this will be taken fully into account during the contract letting procedures."
I ask my hon. Friend to explain whether that was taken into account in awarding the contract and, if so, how.
My hon. Friend the Minister wrote to me on 4 November 1988 asserting that
"if this new road had been constructed with asphalt surfacing in accordance with the Department's current specification, it would not have produced a significantly lower traffic noise level." I contest now, as I did then, this assertion, especially as the grooving in the concrete is at least twice the depth of the minimum specification.
The Minister went on to say :
"the usual competitive arrangements allow for either concrete or bituminous construction to be accepted, with contracts awarded on the basis of the lowest cost for a particular job."
All well and good, but what was the difference in the cost between surfacing the road in concrete or tarmacadam? Indeed was a quotation for bituminous construction even invited? This raises significant questions. Tenders should not be sought on the basis of price only. Does the Department make a point of inviting tenders for different types of surfacing in view of the implications of the different building materials involved?
Most of my constituents who are affected consider that the only satisfactory conclusion is the resurfacing of the road with asphalt. My hon. Friend ruled this out last month because, in his words, the Government
"could not justify the very substantial cost that would be involved."
What cost would be involved, and how would this relate to the difference between the original tenders for concrete and for bituminous surfaces? I have been told that the road was budgeted originally at £30 million. Apparently the contract price was about £19 million, although the actual cost was a little higher. Will my hon. Friend confirm or deny these figures? It is important that he does that because it might demonstrate whether the job has been done on the cheap, but at the expense of quality and quietude. Last month I suggested to the Minister that, if it were technically feasible, the textured depth of the road should be "sandpapered" down, but he replied on 18 November that his Department was not aware of any machine that could plane concrete to a tolerance as fine as, say, 0.5 mm. But such a fine tolerance is not required. Any improvement or reduction in the highly grooved surface would bring a significant attenuation of noise.
Column 550The Minister also appears to place great reliance on the natural action of traffic as an abrasive in removing the high ridges within "a reasonable period". But what is "reasonable" and what degree of reduction in noise can be anticipated? My view is that it will take much longer than a year.
It has been said that the noise from the new road surface will be reduced by 40 per cent. in the first year. But what does that 40 per cent. reduction mean? Sound intensity is measured on a logarithmic scale, so a reduction of sound intensity by 40 per cent. would mean that the measured sound level would be reduced by only about three dB(A). The chairman of Chichester district council, Mrs. Jean Illius, recently sent me the test findings of environmental health officers at two locations north of the road, in Hambrook and Woodmancote. The findings of 65 dB(A) and 65.5 dB(A) respectively were at or above the predicted noise levels provided by the Department of Transport at the commencement of the scheme and predicted for the year 2003. But as the volume of traffic is expected to rise significantly in the next 15 years, it is reasonable to assume that the actual noise levels for the year 2003 will be greater than predicted. While I welcome my hon. Friend's decision to undertake a reassessment of traffic noise levels, may I be told what action he will take if his original predictions are shown to have been exceeded?
The Minister has told me that the Department of Transport could contemplate only work such as further bunds or barriers, but my impression is that these would provide little relief, even to nearby houses. Surprisingly, the trees along the route provide little or no sound cushion. Unless there is a considerable depth of densely planted trees, the attenuation provided is negligible.
What redress or compensation is available to my constituents? Will the Minister look again at the question of resurfacing or planning works if the results of his tests show, as I believe they will, that the noise is excessive? Also, in view of the recent tragic death of a 15-year-old boy while trying to cross the road, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Havant, I hope that he will consider the aspects of access to the road and safety along its route. Will my hon. Friend confirm that in part I of the Land Compensation Act 1973, claims for compensation may be made for loss of value of property because of noise and other adverse physical factors? My constituents should be informed that claims may be made from 20 August 1989, one year before the road opening, and that anyone selling before then should register a claim with the Department of Transport after exchange of contracts but before completion. Claim forms are available from the Department's south-east regional office in Dorking.
From what I know of my hon. Friend the Minister, I know that these words will not have fallen on deaf ears. I and my constituents look to him to make a constructive and positive response.
The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Peter Bottomley) : I shall say some specific things first and then deal with more general issues, which is the reverse of normal procedure. My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) referred to safety, and my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Sir I. Lloyd) has written
Column 551to me about it. We are considering the improvement of fencing along the road as a matter of urgency. My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester talked about lighting. Hampshire county council has accepted that it is its responsibility to maintain the lighting in the tunnel, and it will give the matter urgent attention. Noise is important, but, as my hon. Friend says, it is safety first. Anyone listening to my hon. Friend would have understood how hard he has worked on these issues, the detail that he has gone into and the close links that he has had with his constituents and the constituents of others who are affected by the issue. I acknowledge the way in which he brought into the debate my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall). If I spent all the money that is available to me on extra facilities for existing road proposals, I must say to my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel that it would not be possible to bring Crossbush into the programme as soon as I would wish.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester has raised an environmental issue. Liberal Members are entirely absent from the Chamber. That is their position after a speech by the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) on a water authority, during a debate on the money resolution, that had nothing to do with the question before the House. That shows how the Liberals treat local and national issues. My hon. Friend has introduced a national issue, and I know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that that is one of the reasons why you are chairing our proceedings.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester knows that, in the light of the concern which he and his constituents have raised, we have asked the consultants to reassess traffic and noise levels. The reassessment will take account of traffic flows, recorded in the three months since the road opened, and the road surface texture, using the new 1988 version of the report entitled "Calculation of Road Traffic Noise". If the original forecasts of noise levels are found to be significantly exceeded by the measured results and the forecasts which were built upon them, we shall consider whether additional protective measures can be justified. We hope to have the results early next year.
It is too soon to draw firm conclusions either on the results of the new forecasts or on whatever measures might be taken--I do not want to raise my hon. Friend's hopes too high by offering him promises late at night and not delivering in the morning--but it does appear that noise levels are between 2 and 3 dB(A) higher than forecast. As my hon. Friend spelt out in his physics lesson, that is an appreciable difference. Of course, it is the same difference upwards as it would be downwards. We should not rubbish the effects of reductions or of increases in noise. At the least, if it is confirmed that noise levels are 2 or 3 dB(A) higher than those predicted, that would result in additional houses being offered secondary glazing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester was slightly unfair to mounds. If someone is within about 100 yd of a mound or bund, there is an appreciable difference. The closer that someone is to the bund or mound, the greater the difference. Trees on their own do not affect the noise level. They have a psychological effect, however, because they cut off the sight of traffic. It is often the combination of the sight of traffic and the sound of it that makes life difficult to bear for those who have lived previously in an area that was quiet. We all know that in areas of the sort that are represented by those of my hon. Friends who are in the Chamber this evening --I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Dorrell) will
Column 552confirm this from his constituency experience--that when a road is built where people are already living, it can disturb them greatly. If a house is built following the construction of the road, people will move in and cheerfully put up with more noise than if the noise follows them.
I understand the local concern. It would not be possible to resurface the road. The cost difference requested by my hon. Friend is £1.3 million, and that is an appreciable sum. If we have 30 to 40 completed road schemes a year and we were able to save £1.3 million on each, we could bring relief to many more communities. I am not saying that my hon. Friend's constituents must make sacrifices so that others may be bypassed. There is a responsibility to bring the environmental relief that this section of the A27 has brought to the many people who live on the existing road and we need to get value for money. Also, if we specified the type of surface, we would find that either the bitumen or the concrete suppliers would start to practice more monopoly pricing. We would lose a strong element of competition. There would be a loss not of £1.3 million, but of £2 million or £3 million on a surfacing contract. One of the reasons why we get value for money is that we allow competition.
My hon. Friend referred to the inspector's report and to the decision letter when previous Secretaries of State said that they would take that into account. The information that, at any given level of steering resistance, roads have the same level of noise is based on scientific research. It does not state that a concrete grooving will always be achieved precisely as intended. My hon. Friend raised that point. He was rather hopeful about taking off any high ridges that may exist. It is important to ensure that we have the right skidding resistance. We were talking about trying to cut off peaks, if there are any, without affecting the skidding resistance of the road. We intend to spend £9 million in each of the next four years and £2 million a year thereafter to monitor the skidding resistance of our roads to see whether resurfacing work is inadequate. We expect that that small amount of money will produce a return of £5.50 for every £1 we spend in terms of accidents prevented. It is important to bear that in mind after my earlier points about casualty reductions.
I obviously cannot say that on every occasion that asphalt is used it comes up to the intended specification. Extra safety and extra noise must be balanced. There may be signs that traffic is wearing out some of the ridges in a reasonable time. However, that cannot be claimed to reduce the noise by 2 or 3 dB(A). The likely figure is 1 dB(A) and that would not be noticeable to the general public, although it would be noticeable to noise meters.
If successive ridges have created extra decibels, my hon. Friend should not be concerned about that. It may turn out that since the road was designed and the calculations were made, continued economic growth, the increase in the number of cars and the growth in general movement in the south-east and on the south coast in particular, may have been more of a cause of that. That would provide a new basis for the forecast for the design, which may bring about some of the changes in compensation arrangements.
My hon. Friend asked me to confirm the section 1 compensation arrangements. He described them correctly. People who are selling before the year is up after the opening of the road, should register the claim between the exchange of contracts and completion. If they have any doubts, they can refer them to my hon. Friend, to the