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Trunk Roads (Review)

3.30 pm

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. John MacGregor) : With permission, Madam Speaker, I wish to make a statement on the trunk road programme review.

I announced in August 1993 that we intended to review the road programme. Today, I want to set out our proposals for a revised and prioritised programme that will ensure a more efficient, better managed and speedier delivery of the improvements that we need and which is compatible with the principles of sustainable development. My target was to complete the review in time for it to provide the basis for the new Highways Agency, which is being launched today. The review is now complete and copies of the report have been placed in the Vote Office and the Library.

The Government have an excellent record of investment in delivering increased motorway and trunk road capacity, which is so vital to the economic well-being of the country, and in providing bypasses, which remove heavy traffic from the centres of towns and villages, with immense benefits for the residents and their environment. We plan to spend about £2 billion a year on trunk roads over the next three years, which is almost double the level, in real terms, in 1979. Fifty-seven major contracts are under construction and last month I announced our intention to start work on a further 22 major contracts during 1994-95, which are worth more than £1 billion in total.

However, it is worth reminding the House that, altogether, my Department is spending 50 per cent. of its budget on roads, which account for 90 per cent. of all inland journeys in the United Kingdom, and 40 per cent. on public transport, which accounts for 10 per cent. of journeys. That demonstrates the importance that we attach to rail and urban transport systems and it clearly shows how we skew expenditure that way.

The review does not affect the three-year national roads expenditure plan which was announced at the time of the autumn statement ; nor does it cover local authorities' road programmes. It has its origins in the package of measures that I announced to deliver road schemes faster.

In the past, it has taken an average of 13.5 years to get from the entry of a scheme into the programme to its opening. I aim to cut that time by up to a third. We are already making good progress. I recently announced consultation on much-needed changes to road scheme public inquiry rules. The new Highways Agency is now launched. The most important measure in the package, however, was a review of the national trunk road construction programme, with the aim of speeding up the delivery of projects with the highest priority.

The review has been the most wide ranging and in-depth for many years. There was a clear managerial need for establishing priorities. Until now, all the schemes in the road programme have been taken forward with the same effort and many of them at the same speed. That does not make the best use of resources. It wastes money and time, and creates uncertainty.

However, the opportunity has also been taken to go much wider. It is no part of the Government's policies to tell people when and how to travel. On the other hand, we must be aware of the consequences if people continue to exercise their choices as they do at present. In certain parts

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of the country, the resulting growth will have unacceptable consequences for both the environment and the economy. Of course, there is no realistic possibility of simply halting traffic growth. What we can seek is to bring home its full cost. We must enable people to enjoy access to goods and services and to visit other people, while reducing the amount of movement needed to achieve that aim.

Increases in fuel duty, and motorway tolling, will help people to make more informed choices about the cost of using their cars. Planning guidance just published will also help to reduce the requirement to travel to reach goods and services. However, even a reduced rate of traffic growth will not remove the urgent need that we face already for new bypasses, wider motorways and safer junctions.

The review, therefore, provided the opportunity to check that each scheme was still essential, was on the proper scale, and accorded with the high standards now expected of our road improvements in a way that reconciled the needs of industry and the economy with the needs of the environment. Each scheme in the existing programme has been examined carefully to confirm, among other things, that it produces a high rate of economic benefit in comparison with its cost, and that it has the minimum effect on the natural environment. The review has concluded that most resources should go on the two priorities of improving key routes, primarily motorways, likely to experience stop-start driving conditions in the foreseeable future, and on bypasses. The number of new trunk routes proposed in the publicly funded programme, especially those through open countryside, will be reduced still further to a total of six. Major urban road improvements should be very limited in number, in the light of the continuing substantial Government investment in urban transport initiatives and the priority attached thereto.

Schemes for which there was no acceptable environmental treatment, and those whose priority meant that they were not likely to be built in the foreseeable future--49 in all--are being withdrawn to reduce blight and uncertainty. Work on them will cease immediately. The new prioritised borrowing represents a substantial agenda to take us into the next century. It has been drawn up as a rolling programme, which allows schemes to be added to the higher priorities as and when needs become pressing and funding is available. The highest priority schemes will receive the most urgent attention ; the longer-term schemes will be taken to the next suitable stage in their preparation, and work on them will be resumed only as the programme rolls forward.

The new Highways Agency is being given specific responsibilities for environmental treatment of road schemes. We now employ a large number of landscape architects and environmental specialists to assess and advise on the best design and environmental treatment of national road schemes. I therefore concluded that the Landscape Advisory Committee, which has done such valuable work, has been superseded by the skills now available to us. I wish to express my thanks to the chairman and members of the Landscape Advisory Committee for all the work that they have done.

I turn now to some specific proposals that will be of special interest to the House.

The proposed east-west route from the M40 to the Haven ports has received a special scrutiny. As has already been announced, work on the A418 Wing bypass and the A418 west of Aylesbury bypass has been suspended. Both

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those schemes have been suspended pending the outcome of a new strategic study from the A5 to the M40 in the Oxford area. The central section of the route--A5 to Stansted--has now been withdrawn from the construction programme because it was unlikely that an environmentally acceptable route would be found. The eastern section of the route, from the Haven ports to the M11 and Stansted, will still be taken forward.

We have also re-examined our proposals for improving the M25. I have concluded that plans to widen 80 per cent. of the M25 in the next four to five years to dual four lanes and provide capacity beyond that in the south -west sector, are still the only appropriate response to growing congestion. We will, therefore, publish draft highway orders and an environmental statement on the proposed link roads between junction 12 and junction 15 of the M25 on 7 April. The public will be invited to comment on the proposals. All views will be put before an independent inspector and considered at a public inquiry, probably later this year. Work will also progress towards publication of draft orders and an environmental statement on link roads between junction 15 and junction 16. A public inquiry will follow, probably in 1996. I consider that there will also be a need for capacity beyond dual four lanes between junction 10 and junction 12 in the next decade, but work on that project is still at an early stage and no decisions have been taken on the design. As a result of the review, however, work on increasing capacity beyond dual four lanes between junctions 16 and 21A will be deferred.

I have also decided that two proposed strategic studies in the south-east-- the Kent-Hampshire study and the M3-M40 study--will not go ahead. That decision underlines my commitment to minimising the number of new routes.

Around Oxford, the two schemes on the A40--the Headington bypass and the north of Oxford scheme--will also be withdrawn from the programme, as will the proposed M12 new route from the M25 to Chelmsford. The review gives the new Highways Agency an up-to-date agenda to deliver the road improvements that we need most, with maximum speed and efficiency. Our motorway and trunk road network needs to be maintained and improved to secure our economic well-being and environmental benefits--in particular, by keeping through traffic away from local roads--and to continue improving our already good safety record. The review has had to balance the motoring aspirations of the 1990s family with the consequences ; and the needs of industry and the economy with the needs of the environment. It has achieved that and I commend it to the House.

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) : What the Secretary of State has announced is not, as he would have us believe, an environmentally friendly road-building programme. Most of the Government's bloated roads programme stays in place ; only a small percentage has been withdrawn. Will the Secretary of State tell us how many schemes have been finally and irrevocably abandoned ? Some of the programme has been stretched over a longer period, sentencing thousands of households to even more uncertainty and blight than before.

The Secretary of State referred to the trunk routes in the publicly funded roads programme. Will he tell the House how many privately funded schemes are to go ahead and whether deferred public schemes could be reintroduced into the programme by the private sector ?

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The Secretary of State's announcement is not the outcome of a thoroughgoing review. It is not the product of a careful assessment of the future transport and environmental needs of our country. It has not considered the non-motoring alternatives to meeting those needs. Far from it ; the new roads programme has been decided, in racing terms, by the Treasury out of Political Embarrassment. The Secretary of State has responded to Treasury pressure for a reduction in his roads budget and to the electoral pressure from local campaigners up and down the country.

For years, the Government have rejected the idea of an overall transport policy. Their only policy has been to build more roads. They produce traffic forecasts and then turn those forecasts into targets to be met. We all know that after each new motorway is built, it is quickly filled with traffic and the resulting congestion is followed by proposals for yet more road building.

Some road building is necessary. The last five miles of the A2 to Dover docks and the A1 in Northumberland need to be made dual carriageways, but they are still not a top priority. The M65 in Lancashire needs to be joined up to the M6. At a quick glance, it does not appear in the programme at all. The country wants to know why the Government are persisting with madcap schemes such as relief roads for the M25 around London and for the M62 around the north and west of Manchester.

Why have not the Government taken action to try to get passenger traffic off the roads by giving drivers the chance to choose attractive alternatives ? People use their cars, particularly for the journey to work, because their cars get them where they want, when they want. Surely the answer is to ensure that public transport gets more people where they want, when they want. That means more investment in better bus, train and underground services, more investment in modern projects such as the Manchester metro, the Sheffield supertram and the midlands metro.

Why has not the Secretary of State announced a shift of funds from the road programme to public transport ? Why have the Government not taken action to get more freight off the roads ? Why have they not got on with building the channel tunnel link, the channel tunnel freight terminals and uprating the west coast main line ? Why are they persisting in going ahead with a relief road for the M62, the main trans-Pennine motorway, at a cost of £270 million for 11 miles of road ? They could attract passenger and freight traffic off the self-same M62 by electrifying the trans-Pennine rail link at a cost of about £170 million. Why do not the Government accept that deregulating the bus services has forced people in many areas to use cars because bus services are no longer available ?

What is needed is a genuine review of transport policy, looking at how best to help people and freight get around our country quickly, cheaply, efficiently, safely and with the least damage to local communities and the environment. They will never get that from a Tory Government.

Mr. MacGregor : I should be happy to answer all those points, but I think that I would be out of order if I dealt with every one. I know that the hon. Gentleman was late coming into the Chamber, but he has clearly not read the statement, did not listen to it and does not know what it is all about.

The number of schemes withdrawn is 49, as I said in my statement. That is a significant number of schemes that we do not believe can be delivered within the foreseeable

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future. We have concluded that a number of schemes, some of which are substantial, are not attractive environmentally and their benefits do not outweigh the environmental disbenefits. A significant number of schemes have been withdrawn--49.

Mr. Dobson : Irrevocably ?

Mr. MacGregor : They have been withdrawn from the programme. The hon. Gentleman talked about sentencing households to blight because some projects have been put into the longer-term part of the programme. But we are reducing the blight and uncertainty by producing a more realistic timetable for all the schemes. The blight and uncertainty for many will be reduced as many of the schemes have been brought forward under the new set of priorities.

The hon. Gentleman was wrong to describe the statement as a response to the Treasury. At the beginning, I clearly gave our programme for expenditure in the next three years, and that has not been changed. I made it clear that we are drawing up a rolling programme over a considerable period with the right order of priorities. The hon. Gentleman completely missed that point. The hon. Gentleman asked whether some of the schemes that have been withdrawn would be privately financed rather than publicly financed. The answer is no. As he will know, there is one privately financed scheme at present : the Birmingham northern relief road. A proposition for the Birmingham western orbital road may well be taken forward as a design, build, finance and operate scheme. The schemes that have been withdrawn are not part of the programme.

The hon. Gentleman commented at length on non-motoring alternatives. He has again failed to take into account the fact that we are spending 40 per cent. of the total of a substantially increased budget on public transport for 10 per cent. of the journeys. In London, the ratio is 3 :1 in favour of public transport--in the railways, channel tunnel infrastructure-- [Hon. Members :-- "Where ?"] The hon. Gentleman totally ignores the £1.4 billion investment that has already gone into infrastructure in the channel tunnel. He thinks that £1.4 billion is not a great deal of money and would happily spend much more, in contrast to his colleagues on the Labour Front Bench who say that they will restrain public spending. The hon. Gentleman was simply talking about spending more.

The expenditure currently being devoted to London Underground is six times more in real terms than it was under the Greater London council in the late 1970s-- [Interruption.] In the late 1970s, I said--under a Labour Government. Clearly, a great deal of investment is going into the underground.

The hon. Gentleman implied that, with the exception of a few road schemes, he wants to see road-building schemes halted.

Mr. Dobson : I did not say that.

Mr. MacGregor : That was very much the impression that he gave. If he is saying that he is happy with our road-building programme

Mr. Dobson : I did not say that either.

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Mr. MacGregor : Well, perhaps the hon. Gentleman will make up his mind what he is saying. Either he is saying that he wants to spend much more money everywhere, in contrast to his shadow Treasury colleagues, which belies their position absolutely, or he is saying that he will cut massively the road-building programme in order to devote more resources to other areas of public expenditure. Massive cuts in the road-building programme would have a devastating effect on the economic competitiveness of businesses in this country. We are devoting resources and effort to transferring more freight from road to rail, but it will not be possible on the scale envisaged by the hon. Gentleman and our businesses would be devastated if he substantially cut the roads programme.

The hon. Gentleman also says that he wishes to reduce choice for families who, with their increased standard of living, want to use their motor cars.

The hon. Gentleman has neither read the policy document nor taken on board why we are taking this action. Above all, his approach to roads, freight and cars is misguided. I hope, therefore, that whenever we embark on a road project, he will come out and say that he is against it. He can then see what the public says.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Speaker : Order. Those first two exchanges have taken precisely 21 minutes. [Hon. Members :-- "Hear, hear."] There is no point in saying "Hear, hear" unless I get the co-operation of the House, with brisk questions and equally brisk answers.

Sir Peter Fry (Wellingborough) : May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on conducting a realistic reappraisal of the roads programme, while resisting the cries of those who want to bring the road-building programme to a stop ? Does he agree that, over the past 20 years, we have heard the same old story from the Opposition, who have totally ignored the fact that more and more

Madam Speaker : Order. I have appealed to the House not to make statements. A supplementary question means one question, not a catalogue of questions. That is what I am now looking for from all hon. Members.

Sir Peter Fry : Does my right hon. Friend agree that his statement strikes the right balance between the needs of people who want to drive their own cars, the country's economic needs, and environmental matters, which we all hold dear ?

Mr. MacGregor : I agree with my hon. Friend. I have striven, throughout my re-examination of the roads programme, to achieve that, and have put heavy emphasis on environmental aspects. I believe strongly in ensuring that everything that we do is as environmentally friendly as we can make it. That is why the number of schemes has been reduced and we have put heavy emphasis on the environmental aspects of the schemes that we carry forward.

Mr. Nick Harvey (North Devon) : May I welcome the announcement, as far as it goes, particularly the removal of the 49 schemes that have gone altogether ? Does the Minister agree that he has given the game away by boasting that roads expenditure is, in real terms, twice the level that it was in 1979 ? Will he now issue a comprehensive transport Green Paper to consider the

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alternatives, and try to do something about the 10 per cent. figure for the number of journeys made on public transport and avoid the doubling in car numbers which we are set to see ?

Mr. MacGregor : That, of course, is why we are spending 40 per cent. of our budget on public transport. The annual report of my Department as part of the expenditure programme sets out the transport strategy in all its details. I hope that the hon. Member will acknowledge that, for reasons of economic competitiveness and because so many families find it attractive to travel by car and wish to use their cars more, we also have to have a substantial road programme of investment.

Sir Terence Higgins (Worthing) : Has my right hon. Friend's statement any implications for the timing of any development of the A27 in the Worthing area ? In view of the emphasis that he rightly places on bypasses, why is his Department persisting in what is not a bypass but a through-pass ? Will he ensure that Worthing has a bypass, like virtually everywhere else on the south coast ?

Mr. MacGregor : I know exactly the scheme to which my right hon. Friend refers ; it is in the priority 2 category. It is necessary to go ahead with the assessment of alternative routes before public consultation and public inquiries. It is essential do all that work on priority 2 categories now, because it takes some time to get them to the point of construction. The issue that my right hon. Friend is raising is currently being considered in the public inquiry. We shall have to wait for the outcome of that inquiry and take decisions after it.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) : The Secretary of State will be aware that one scheme that ought to have been dropped but was not is his proposal to build a bypass to the A1 western bypass in Gateshead. Is he aware that that scheme will demolish many homes ? It will not deal with the problem ; it will cut a huge swathe through the most attractive green belt in Gateshead and leave thousands of my constituents living on a road island. Will he look again at the local authority's alternative scheme which deals with the whole problem, not just the one of through traffic ? It demolishes no homes, it protects the green belt, it can be completed in phases and his the Department acknowledges that it is cheaper than his own scheme.

Mr. MacGregor : I am aware that there are many divided views about the scheme to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I have had deputations about it and have been there. The appropriate next stage is the public inquiry, where all the issues can be fully aired. That is what the public inquiry is for.

Mr. Simon Burns (Chelmsford) : Very briefly, may I, on behalf of myself, my right hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr. Newton), the Leader of the House, our constituents and all local campaigners thank my right hon. Friend for killing off the unloved, hare-brained scheme of the M12 to Chelmsford ? May I congratulate him and his colleague the Minister for Roads and Traffic on the sensitive way in which they have paid regard to the environment in mid and south Essex. Thank you very much.

Mr. MacGregor : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am grateful, too, for his tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic who has played a notable and

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powerful part in the review, and I am grateful to him. The M12 proposition seemed to fall absolutely into the category that we are now anxious to avoid whenever possible--new routes through attractive and open countryside. On the other hand, where there is a transport need, we have concentrated on developing along existing road corridors. Where an improvement is needed in that area, the right way is to improve the A12 and not to have a new motorway.

Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr) : As most of the statement was about the south, will the Secretary of State give some detail about the midlands, particularly around Birmingham ? The M6, which runs through my constituency, cannot be widened because most of it is 100 ft in the air. What relief will my constituents get in respect of the urgent need for some genuine bypass arrangement ?

Mr. MacGregor : I mentioned some of the schemes because they have been particularly of comment and there are also schemes such as the M12, where we are making a real change. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will look at the full review, where he will see the proposals for the west midlands. One way of helping his particular issue would be noise barriers and sound barriers, but I would wish to engage in correspondence with the hon. Gentleman about the precise details of the scheme.

Mr. Michael Alison (Selby) : The Selby bypass has been placed in the priority 2 designation. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the emphasis will be on priority, rather than on a second-class designation ? Will he also confirm that nothing in a priority 2 designation implies an inhibition of the statutory processes, or a delay in the introduction of bulldozers when those processes have been completed ?

Mr. MacGregor : Indeed, I can confirm both points. First, priority 2 designation is not about secondary or second-level schemes ; it is about the priority given to the tackling of schemes. Secondly, the work will continue to go ahead in such cases.

The point is that we wish to devote resources most urgently to getting the priority schemes through, while carrying forward the earlier stages of public consultation and public inquiry in regard to priority 2 schemes. In some cases, it may be possible to put priority 2 schemes ahead of priority 1 schemes when, for one reason or another, priority 1 schemes are held up. I can confirm to my right hon. Friend that there will be no delay.

Mr. Terry Lewis (Worsley) : Does the Secretary of State accept that the failure to take out the M62 relief road will cause widespread dismay in my constituency and in neighbouring areas ? This is probably the most insensitive scheme in the entire roads programme, and placing it in category 2 will worsen the position of people whose homes are already threatened by the insensitive way in which the Department has dealt with the whole business ever since the publication of the White Paper four years ago. It is time that the Secretary of State lived up to his green claims, and did something about such roads. He should remove this monstrous concept from the roads programme now.

Mr. MacGregor : In some parts of the country, the motorway network is already extremely congested--or it is clear that, because of economic growth and development, it will become so. It is very desirable for us to find

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solutions to that problem, other than simply causing traffic to go off existing motorways and back on to local roads. We are sometimes faced with difficult choices. The scheme to which the hon. Gentleman refers will enable a public inquiry to take place, at which all the issues can be considered.

Mr. John Butcher (Coventry, South-West) : May I thank my right hon. Friend for responding to representations from my constituents who asked for the abandoning of proposals to widen three junctions on the A45 in my constituency ? If my right hon. Friend visited Coventry, he would be cheered to the echo by my constituents who have had blight removed from their homes.

Mr. MacGregor : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As he will know, our review concluded that three projects in his constituency should be withdrawn.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton) : Have not business leaders said that London faces ruin as a business centre because of traffic congestion ? Yet the Secretary of State is continuing with the M11 link road, which will bring more traffic into London. Many people in my area will be disappointed --but not surprised, because the Secretary of State is still seen very much as a road junkie.

Mr. MacGregor : As the hon. Gentleman will see when he reads the report, we are concentrating on ensuring that the bypasses around London-- the M25 and inner circular routes such as the north circular--continue to be developed to meet the growth in traffic, to avoid through traffic going through London. We are also focusing on road schemes that improve the prospects for employment and economic regeneration in docklands and the east end of London. That is the purpose of those road schemes.

Beyond that, we have suspended most of the other schemes because we wish to review the radial roads. We want to cut improvements to roads that encourage commuters to come into central London by car. That parallels much of the other work that we are doing in London, which places heavy emphasis on public transport--improvements to the Jubilee line and many others, red routes and a number of other policies that we are pursuing. I think that the road policy is consistent.

Mr. Kenneth Carlisle (Lincoln) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that it makes great sense to concentrate resources on a smaller number of schemes, so that it takes a shorter time to design and build the roads themselves--and, more important, so that blight is removed in the shorter time scale ? That is very welcome. As my right hon. Friend knows, the A46 between Newark and Lincoln is hugely important to the Lincoln area. Can he give me any news about that scheme ?

Mr. MacGregor : I agree with my hon. Friend. I am grateful for all the work that he did as a Minister in my Department prior to the review and which contributed to it greatly. The A46 scheme to which he referred is a priority 2 scheme, so that means that it remains firmly in the programme.

Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North) : In his statement, the Secretary of State talked about bringing home to people the full costs of their choice of road transport. Are the Government proposing to introduce

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ways of measuring the full costs ? Will they include, for example, the cost of losing thousands of lives on the roads every year as well as the terrible environmental costs ? Will the Government recognise that those costs are incalculable ? Is there some significance in the fact that the Secretary of State omitted to mention the trans-European road network in his spoken statement whereas it is in the typed version ?

Mr. MacGregor : If the costs are incalculable, it is difficult to calculate them. We have been doing a great deal of work to try to establish the accurate costing of all these matters. There is an annex in the consultation document that we produced last year which deals with paying for better motorways. It provides an analysis of how we are approaching that.

I simply deleted the part about the trans-European route network because I did not want my statement to be too long. I am happy to make clear the position. It stems from the decision to withdraw part of what was the trans -European route network from Stansted to Oxford. However, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we will continue to have a trans-European route network up to Holyhead and beyond. That will be the route from the Haven ports via Stansted and I have made it clear that that will continue. It will in future follow the existing M11, A604, A14, M6 and M54 routes.

Sir Trevor Skeet (Bedfordshire, North) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that in Bedford we have been waiting for 30 years for a bypass ? Will my right hon. Friend do his utmost to accelerate the development ?

Mr. MacGregor : My hon. Friend illustrates that there are many demands for bypasses now. I know that only too well, as I travel regularly round the country. That is why it has been necessary to prioritise the programme. It is not possible with all the statutory procedures and in terms of the funds available, to have all the bypasses now. We cannot do everything at once. My hon. Friend will be reassured to know that all his schemes remain clearly in the programme and most of them are in priority 2, so that work will continue.

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East) : Will the Secretary of State accept that the Birmingham northern relief road referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) was scheduled to open in spring 1994--that is now ? It is his Department's and his predecessor's much-vaunted private sector initiative which guarantees only that there will be a further public inquiry later this year. What sort of balanced road programme proposes a reduction of 5 per cent. in what one of his predecessor's called the biggest road-building programme since the Romans, while proposing also a 24 per cent. reduction in public transport expenditure over the next three years and a 50 per cent. reduction in the railways external financing limit ? Balance ? What sort of balance is that ?

Mr. MacGregor : The balance remains clearly that public transport is gaining in relation to the total number of journeys made on it much more than would otherwise be the case. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Birmingham northern relief road project goes to a public inquiry in the summer. That is one of the reasons why I wish to prioritise the programme. There are a number of public inquiries for some of the bigger and more controversial routes and it is

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right that there should be. For that reason, we do not wish to carry forward the processes for the whole of the road programme. If there are delays in one or two of the public programmes--the one to which the hon. Gentleman referred is a privately financed programme- -priority 2 schemes can come forward. It would not make sense to have schemes in the longer-term programme being taken forward at the same pace.

Sir Geoffrey Pattie (Chertsey and Walton) : Does my right hon. Friend plan to respond to the alternative package of proposals for the M25 put forward by Runnymede borough council by setting up an independent assessment of those proposals ?

Mr. MacGregor : I have discussed that question with my right hon. Friend and I am very much aware of the alternative proposals. I am aware also of the strength of local feeling. On the other hand, there is no doubt that unless we do something to remove the potential congestion on that stretch of the road, the effect on local roads will be substantial.

I have been analysing Runnymede borough council's proposals. I do not think that an independent commission is the right way forward because we do not have provision for that. I think that a public inquiry at which all the proposals can be looked at thoroughly is the right way forward. It would enable a much more detailed and public investigation to take place. That is why I believe that we should have a public inquiry and I am certain that the proposals will be looked at thoroughly.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : With the local knowledge of a St. Andrews graduate, will the Secretary of State ask the Secretary of State for Scotland to think of dropping the ill-conceived idea for a second Forth road bridge, abolish tolls and make it possible for Edinburgh

Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that I hate interrupting, but this is not a Scottish statement. I do not think it right that he should ask the Secretary of State for Transport questions that should be put to the Secretary of State for Scotland. If he rephrases his question, I will, of course, hear him, but I am sure that he will understand that that was a question for the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Mr. Dalyell : I accept your ruling, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker : I thank the hon. Gentleman very much. I am much obliged to him ; he shows great parliamentary courtesy.

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) : In March last year, the Department's regional office in Leeds agreed to the improvement of the junction of the A57 and A618 by putting a roundabout in place. As the same office told me last month that it does not have a firm completion date and that, indeed, the availability of funds will determine when work on the junction can be started, does the Secretary of State's statement mean that such road safety projects will be given priority or am I to see further fatal accidents on the A57 trunk road before the work is done ?

Mr. MacGregor : I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, but I do not carry the details of every scheme in my head. [Hon. Members :-- "Why not ?"] Well, there are huge numbers of them. I suspect that the scheme to which he refers is a local authority scheme and therefore comes

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within the transport supplementary grant. If that is correct--as it is a local safety scheme, it must be--I point out to him that we are giving substantial sums of money to local safety schemes within the TSG ; my announcement today does not affect local authority roads.

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) : May I welcome my right hon. Friend's sensible announcement concerning the east-west trunk road, but ask him what significance should be attached to his decision to give the Aston Clinton A41 bypass priority 2 in view of the fact that intolerable pressure is being placed on my constituents there by the completion of the Berkhamsted bypass about which his Department's brochure speaks very proudly today ?

Mr. MacGregor : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his first comment. Clearly, in making our decision on the scheme, we took into account not only the environmental aspects but the views of many people from the counties involved, including my hon. Friend's. It seemed that the environmental objections overrode any economic benefits that might have come from that particular scheme. The Aston Clinton bypass is in category 2. We had to wrestle hard with bypass schemes because so many were demanded across the country--a point which the strongly anti-road environmental lobbies completely ignore sometimes. We faced huge demands and it was necessary to prioritise, but all the statutory processes will still apply to that scheme.

Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley) : We appreciate the work that has already been done on the A1 in Northumberland, but when will there be a dual carriageway right through Northumberland up to Edinburgh ? There has been carnage and loss of life on that stretch of the road.

Mr. MacGregor : I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the improvement to the A1 is a very important project. It is also expensive ; the work that we started in Yorkshire proves that. It is a question of timing and establishing priorities, and I think that he will find that the priorities on the different parts of that scheme are outlined in the report.

Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock (Batley and Spen) : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the great welcome given to the news about the cancellation of the proposed M1-M62 link and is he also aware how much local appreciation there is in Roberttown and the surrounding areas that we shall continue to have green fields for future generations ?

Mr. MacGregor : I am grateful to my hon. Friend.

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