|Previous Section||Home Page|
Mr. Moss : I am grateful for that timely intervention. I knew that the roll on/roll off link had been reinstated, but the most important fact is that we are unlikely to get support from Brussels if our Government do not earmark the A47 for significant improvement and give it high priority in our national road programme.
I turn to the second of the Department of Transport's objectives-- improvement of the environment. I have alluded to the higher than average growth in traffic in north Cambridgeshire and to the fact that on some stretches of the A47--notably the Eye bypass and the Guyhirn to Wisbech stretch--traffic flows are respectively 30 per cent. to 80 per cent. above the road's capacity. Any reduction in flow or increase in capacity will have a dramatic effect on the environmental amenity of settlements along the road, and by far the most critical improvement would be the provision of a bypass for the village of Thorney.
Some grudging acceptance of that fact by the Department of Transport has been given since the Thorney bypass has been included in this year's review, albeit as a priority 2 scheme. I remind the Minister, however, that as recently as 3 November 1993, in his reply to my inquiry about the bypass, he said that draft orders would be published at the end of 1994, but under the review the scheme does not have a target milestone in either 1994 or 1995. In response to another letter that I wrote only a week or so ago, I have had a reply from Lawrie Haynes, chief executive of the Highways Agency, about the Thorney bypass. He said :
"It would not be meaningful at present for me to anticipate when we shall be in a position to publish our proposals as draft orders, but it will be several years away."
It gives me no joy to report that the Department of Transport's most recent policies in relation to Thorney are in tatters and are totally lacking in credibility. Fears were expressed that the proposed traffic-calming measures for the village were in some way in lieu of a bypass, and with the most recent announcement I am sure that villagers will conclude that their original expectations have come to fruition.
There is an overwhelming case for the early completion of the Thorney bypass. It is compatible with all the Government's objectives and it is strongly supported locally. The people of Thorney have been kept waiting for some 50 years for a bypass and the moral case is powerful
Column 160because of the number of times promises have been made but not kept. I ask the Minister at least to give some indication of the target date for the publication of the order.
The third of the Department's objectives is to enhance road safety. Accident rates on the A47 within the county of Cambridgeshire are 23 per cent. higher than the national average for existing rural area roads. That is 0.43 injury accidents per million vehicle kilometres, compared with the national average of 0.33. Again, that average masks considerable variations.
The worst section for accidents is that between Eye and Thorney, with double the national average--0.66 injuries and accidents per 1 million vehicle kilometres. Furthermore, it is a section of the A47 which featured in the review programme under the category "longer-term improvement". As I have already said, that could be 20 years away. As an accident black spot, it is closely followed by the Thorney to Guyhirn section, which has 0.56 accidents per 1 million vehicle kilometres, but the review removed any improvement of that section of the road from the programme entirely, a decision that defies all logic under criteria set down by the Department itself. According to the Department's own figures for 1992, fatal crashes on the A47 in the North West Anglia health authority area cost about £9.2 million. When that is added to the £4.1 million for non- fatal crashes, the total cost to the economy reaches £13.3 million. If all the projects along the A47 in north-west Anglia were completed, I estimate that the total cost would be between £70 million and £80 million, but cutting serious accidents would mean a pay-back period of between five and seven years, which is an excellent return by any standards.
The A47 is a route of major strategic importance to the economically disadvantaged parts of northern East Anglia. Potentially, it is also a key route for the European Commission's trans-European road network. Upgrading of the A47 is regarded by local authorities as essential for the achievement of the Government's regional strategy for East Anglia, encouraging economic growth in the area and maximising the benefits to the local economy of the recent granting of objective 5b and intermediate assisted area status.
The revised roads programme acknowledges the importance of the A11 which, with the A47 to the east of Norwich, provides an important route linking the M11 to Great Yarmouth. By the same logic, it should also acknowledge the importance of linking the A1 west of Peterborough through the northern part of East Anglia to Great Yarmouth and the benefits that that would bring to the objective 5b and assisted areas along that route.
The A47 is unpleasant and dangerous for road users. Drivers do not like using it, but there is little alternative. Drivers working for the Eastern Counties Omnibus Company hate driving on the A47 and try hard to swap rosters to avoid routes that use the road. Given the forecast increase in traffic, the A47 in Cambridgeshire will soon be stretched beyond its design capacity and, as traffic increases, the accident rates are bound to worsen.
The Department of Transport seems to be under attack in certain parts of the country for building roads that local people do not want, but we want this road. The Department will have no problem in getting the road accepted by local authorities and will have the full support of my constituents. The case for the road is overwhelming according to all the objectives set out by the Department. I believe that the Department needs to consult more closely
Column 161with the Department of the Environment and the Department of Trade and Industry, both of which have agreed regional economic strategies for my constituency and the surrounding areas. I ask the Minister to liaise with his colleagues and to think again.
I endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Moss) said. When the White Paper was published just the other day, there was a sense of disbelief in west Norfolk. As my hon. Friend said, the A47 had been earmarked as a strategic route in the 1989 White Paper and there was to be dualling along its entire length. At that stage, there was rejoicing, but there was a sense of let-down when the road was downgraded in the new programme. We are very concerned about the Hardwick roundabout in particular. The scheme is ready at the end of the runway, and the draft orders were published back in May last year. There have been no objections to the scheme. About three years ago, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), the then Secretary of State for Transport, said that there was no reason why it could not be built within two years. We were very confident that the scheme was to be announced as a new start this year, so one can imagine my sense of total disbelief and anger when I saw in the review that it was to be not a priority 1 but a priority 2 scheme. We are also concerned about the Middleton-East Winch bypass, which is down in the review as a single-lane bypass. Of course we need the bypass very badly. To see it down as a single -carriageway scheme makes no sense at all when, in the mid-1970s, the Swaffham bypass on the A47 slightly further along was dualled and, going west, the South Lynn bypass was dualled. It makes no sense, 20 or 25 years on, to build a new bypass as a single carriageway.
Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister could comment on those two important local points for my constituency. Apart from that, I entirely concur with the comments by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East.
The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Robert Key) : I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Moss) on securing the debate. I sometimes wonder whether the constituents of any Member of Parliament realise the lengths to which their representatives go to obtain these debates. More than that, I wonder whether they realise how much effort a Member of Parliament puts into discussing problems with Ministers in the interests of his constituents. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has been a tireless champion for his constituents on these road schemes, which I know are of great importance to him and to his electors.
I also welcome the interventions by my hon. Friends the Members for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Bellingham) and for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Carttiss). I look forward to visiting Great Yarmouth later in the year at the invitation of my hon. Friend. In the six or so minutes left to me, I
Column 162cannot conceivably do justice to the depth of interest in the subject which has been displayed by my hon. Friends, but I shall do my best to make a little progress.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East is aware that the Government have recognised that the A47 provides an important strategic link between the industrial midlands and the east coast ports and he has rightly described what happened in the 1989 White Paper, "Roads for Prosperity". It contained proposals for improving the A47 from east of Peterborough to Norwich to dual carriageway standard. That commitment has been reaffirmed in the report of the 1994 review of the roads programme which acknowledges the importance of the A47, particularly to the east of Norwich. Together with the A11 from its junction with the M11, the A47 provides an important link to the motorway network from the port of Great Yarmouth which has, of course, recently been granted assisted area status.
I am glad to hear the strong views of my hon. Friends, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth, on the question of the trans-European route network--the TERN. The question of a TERN route along the A47 is still under active consideration by my Department. We are looking again at the routes all over the country and whereas, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East points out, in some parts of the country these routes are viewed with great suspicion and are apparently most unwelcome, in other parts they are seen as an opportunity. That is clearly the case here.
Our strategic programme has to be translated into actual construction. It has already, of course, brought significant improvements to the trunk road network in Cambridgeshire and the rest of East Anglia. These improvements have brought considerable benefits both for drivers and for the communities that have been relieved of through traffic. Record sums have been spent over recent years on roads in the region, especially the A47, the A11 and the A140. I pay tribute here to the Secretary of State who, long before he was Secretary of State for Transport, as the right hon. Member for Norfolk, South, made valiant efforts which, over the years, have been recognised in new road schemes to promote the interests of transport in East Anglia. Now, of course, he cannot say that himself, but I can and I do.
Some £71 million has been spent in Cambridgeshire alone in recent years. On the A47 in Cambridgeshire, we have seen since 1990 the completion of a number of bypasses and diversions. Further east on the A47, the Norwich southern bypass, the Narborough bypass and the East Dereham to North Tuddenham improvement have also been completed.
The purpose of the review which, I know, has upset my hon. Friends and which was the most wide ranging for many years was to place the road programme on a much more efficient and properly managed basis. I have had representations from hon. Members on both sides who have, over the years, been led to believe that their bypass was just around the corner.
It is quite clear that the prioritisation that we have undertaken has put far more certainty and far more focus into the roads programme. I understand the disappointment of my hon. Friends in this instance, but it is a rolling programme and as priority 1 schemes are completed, so priority 2 schemes move up. Then, of course, no doubt, the longer-term schemes have the opportunity of moving into the active programme.
Column 163One of the virtues of adopting that approach is that we have been able to avoid some £100 million a year of premature expenditure on scheme preparation and design. That is the cost of a goodly number of bypasses and it will be much better spent on construction. So we shall be able to build more schemes sooner and concentrate efforts on the most urgently needed bypass and motorway- widening schemes. In the process, we have been able to identify some schemes, which are no longer considered acceptable on environmental grounds, or which are not going to be needed for the foreseeable future and they have quite rightly been removed from the programme.
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East will appreciate that it was inevitable that such a comprehensive review of the national roads programme would have implications for A47 schemes in both Cambridgeshire and Norfolk. We will be pressing ahead with our original proposals for dualling the road from Norwich to Great Yarmouth. We concluded that the initial strategy west of Norwich should be to concentrate on relieving local communities of through traffic.
I am glad that we were able to include the Thorney bypass in the revised programme, although we were unable
Column 164to justify making the section of the A47 between Peterborough and the west of Thorney dual carriageway for the time being. Similarly, we have looked very carefully at the road east of Thorney to Guyhirn. We concluded that there was no pressing need for upgrading that section and it has been withdrawn from the programme. However, proposals for improving the section from Guyhirn to Wisbech, together with improvement of the A1101 junction on the Wisbech bypass, remain in the programme. The Thorney bypass was always going to be subject to resources being available and to our review of the roads programme.
In the meantime, but not as a substitute for the bypass, traffic-calming measures for Thorney were presented to the public in November. The Highways Agency expects to announce the results of that consultation exercise by the end of the next month. Harsh decisions about funding may have to be made in some cases all over the country. Of course, we are subject to resources being available nationally. I am certain that the decisions which have been made in the review of the roads programme are the right ones.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at twenty-six minutes past Twelve midnight.
|Written Answers Section