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complicated by the need to take into account development proposals at Rainham marshes, but the developer has since withdrawn the plans. However, the local urban development plan retains the same intention for the area.

The effect of the new road on the marshes was fully discussed at the public inquiry and the decision to proceed was made in the light of the information arising from that discussion. A public exhibition took place in June 1994, to which the local Members of Parliament and local councillors were invited. The exhibition explained to local people how the construction activities would progress.

My hon. Friend was right to say that the proposals had generally been supported throughout the statutory procedures. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) was consistent in reminding me of the need for the scheme and its importance to the national and local economy. Local authorities are generally in favour of the proposals, as are the majority of local residents and residents' associations.

The scheme presents an opportunity for environmental improvements. Ecologically, the marshes are changing in character since the construction of the sea defences along the Thames estuary. Salt water no longer floods the marshes, and fresh water draining into the river is gradually flushing out the remaining saline water. In the absence of salt water, the salt marsh will continue to dry out. That will have some effect on nature conservation interests, but there will be considerable opportunity for creating habitats for birds, plants and so on. Our proposed mitigation measures will, in the long term, be beneficial to the ecology of the area.

As to the scheme, and the points that my hon. Friend has raised, we have made a good start and construction is in hand on two contracts. I want to make this point clear, because my hon. Friend might have been under a misapprehension. Without meaning to sound patronising, the schemes are almost impenetrably complex to those who do not have to live with them every day.

In fact, two schemes are up and running now. The first is being undertaken by AMEC Civil Engineering Ltd. It is an £11.8 million scheme for work including the relocation of warehouse and storage facilities at Ford's, the construction of a new water treatment plant by the

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River Beam and the construction of access roads and two trial embankments. Work started in February 1994 and will be completed in the spring.

The second contract was awarded in February 1994--it is a £106.9 million contract for the construction of 2.8 miles of new three-lane dual carriageway between Thames avenue, Dagenham and London road, Wennington, which will cross Rainham creek and Rainham and Wennington marshes. The work started in March 1994, is not affected by the recent settlement and is expected to be completed--just as the sign boards say--in 1997.

Two contracts remain, to which we are not committed in this year's settlement, but they remain very important to us. One is for 1.7 miles of main carriageway works between Heathway and Thames avenue, with an estimated cost of £86.9 million. The scheme will provide a full interchange at Choats Manor way and pass through the Ford motor works to connect with the interchange now being provided at Manor way. I should like to thank Ford's for its tremendous co-operation. The company has had to integrate with us in all of the preliminary works on this important project and has been exemplary.

The other remaining contract is for two miles of main carriageway works between a new interchange at London road, Wennington and the M25, at an estimated cost of £26.5 million. Both remaining contracts are priority 1 in the national road programme. They remain a high priority, and work will start on them as soon as funds are available. That is a form of words to which we are accustomed in the Department, but I hope that my hon. Friend and all those hon. Members who read this debate will gain some reassurance from them.

The scheme is up and running. More than £100 million is already committed to it, work is under way and none of it is affected by the difficult settlement that we have had to make this year--a difficult settlement in which many of the projects that people prized had to be put on hold, at least temporarily.

I hope that I have demonstrated to my hon. Friend that, despite that slight interruption in what might have been an ideal timetable for the scheme, the Department appreciates its importance for all the people of south-west Essex, including those whom my hon. Friend represents.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at one minute past Three o'clock.

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