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Column 1040The word "decimate" is about 2,500 years old. Nowadays, it is misused. People think that it means to destroy something. Originally, when a Roman legion did not perform correctly in battle, one man out of every 10 was chosen by lot to be executed. They were decimated. The Home Secretary would not wish to go down in history as the man who decimated the Suffolk police force, but he is in danger of so doing.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean): Judging by the way in which the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Cann) presented his case, the House could be forgiven for thinking that the police have had a poor deal in this year's settlement, but this year's settlement is very fair and very generous. It represents an increase on last year's settlement for the police throughout the whole of England and Wales of an average of more than 3 per cent., or nearly £200 million. It is a clear demonstration of the Government's continuing commitment to the police service in England and Wales. That is the national average across the country--a settlement of more than 3 per cent., when inflation is about 2.5 per cent., and police pay is increased by about 2.5 per cent.
Suffolk, however, has not had an increase of 3 per cent. Suffolk has had its fair share of resources, and the result is that the Suffolk police force will have available to it 4.7 per cent. more than last year. By any standards, can anyone seriously suggest that that is a cut in funding?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman on one point: the word "decimate" is wildly overused. When Suffolk can spend 4.7 per cent. more on its police this year than it did last year, and bearing in mind the two crucial points that the general rate of inflation is 2.5 per cent. and that the bulk of police expenditure, which is on pay and salaries, is increasing by 2.5 per cent., there is no way in which that could be called a cut in funding or a decimation of the force.
Mr. Cann: Perhaps the Minister would like to check Hansard tomorrow, but I do not think that he will find that I used the word "cut" in any circumstances. I have tried to put it to the Minister that the Government, through the formula, have not taken account of expenditure which will be necessary.
Mr. Maclean: If the hon. Gentleman has not used the word "cut", of course I accept that, but he floated the word "decimate". Let us not argue about which word sounds worse. It will scare the people of Suffolk more to hear that a Suffolk Member of Parliament has talked about the possibility of the force being decimated when it has had a 4.7 per cent. increase in funding. I accept that the hon. Gentleman said that he might not have used the word "cut". There were certainly some colleagues last night who, when looking at the increase that their force had and comparing it with the increase that they would have liked it to have if money were no object, called the difference a cut.
Mr. Michael Lord (Suffolk, Central): Obviously, as my hon. Friend knows, I represent Suffolk, and I share the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Cann) that Suffolk should be properly policed. I have been struggling with the conundrum of how a 4.7 per cent. increase can be described as a cut. Although the hon.
Column 1041Gentleman has not described it as such, newspapers in Suffolk have carried banner headlines stating that there will be severe cuts. Our chief constable and the committee are talking about removing the police launch and closing police stations. The general public are extremely worried about the situation, including the hon. Gentleman's points about fewer police on the beat.
I do not know whether I am posing an impossible question in the time available, but, as a Back-Bench Member with a Suffolk constituency, I should like my hon. Friend the Minister to explain how the problem has arisen. Is it pensions? Is it the sparsity part of the formula? Why is the chief constable saying that things are so drastic, when the county has received a 4.7 per cent. increase?
Mr. Maclean: I cannot answer my hon. Friend's valid point, because that would require my going into the detailed budgeting of his police force and the calculations that his excellent chief constable has made. I do not have those figures, and it would not be appropriate for me to seek to challenge them even if I had them. All I can say is that my hon. Friend and our colleagues from Suffolk must put those same points to their own police authority. They should ask, "At a time of inflation of 2.5 per cent. and when the biggest item of police expenditure, police pay, is going up by 2.5 per cent., what is the difficulty of a force living within an increase of 4.7 per cent?"
I accept that, throughout the country, the police pensions element is a big contributor, but I do not think that it is any worse in Suffolk than in other areas. Difficulties are caused by the huge amount of money that must go on police pensions. In some forces which have had increases of 2 per cent. to 5 per cent. and which are not quite as generously funded as Suffolk, chief constables are juggling priorities and coming up with an a la carte menu of things that they might do to live within their increase. That is why newspapers can print banner headlines saying that 20 rural police stations may close or that 50 bobbies may be lost, as chief constables understandably and rightly float their ideas on how to keep their expenditure within that increase. I am sorry that I cannot be absolutely specific with my hon. Friend or with the hon. Member for Ipswich, but it would be wrong to go into the detail of the local police authority's budget and say, "Aha, that's what is wrong; that's what you must change." I cannot and would not do that.
Mr. Lord: I ask my hon. Friend a further question which perhaps falls within his responsibility. Is there a peculiar reason why the position this year is so different from that of former years? The situation in Suffolk is unusual.
Mr. Maclean: There is no peculiar reason why it is different this year. We have introduced a new formula to try to distribute all the extra money more fairly, and we have tried to base it on need. I should love our being able to justify a rural sparsity element--not that I am biased, of course, but colleagues have pressed me on that matter--but I should not do that out of political judgment. I must have proof that there is a statistically valid reason for a force receiving more money because its policing needs are greater because of its rural area. If that could be proved, I would happily do that. Nevertheless, the net result of the new formula is that Suffolk receives 4.7 per cent.
Column 1042Let us suppose that we do not have the new formula, that the Home Secretary has acquired the extra 3 per cent. this year, and that we decide to have a flat-rate increase--no fancy formulae for trying to distribute according to need. Suffolk would receive 3 per cent. this year--everywhere would receive 3 per cent. Although that might remove colleagues' arguments such as, "Why did your lot get more than my lot?", Suffolk would not be as well off as it is now.
Without criticising or questioning any of our excellent chief constables, if, over the past 12 months, considering the financial climate, the general level of inflation and the police pay settlement of 2.5 per cent., any police force expected that the Government were going to find 5, 6 or even 8 per cent. as a standstill budget, that would be cloud cuckoo land economics.
Mr. Cann: It might be my fault, but the Minister does not seem to understand what I said. It is not so much the formula that is the problem. The chief constable and the police authority have said that they could probably cope if the problem were just the formula. The essential problem, and the answer to the query of the hon. Member for Suffolk, Central (Mr. Lord), is that there are different things this year for Suffolk, just as there are throughout the land.
This is the first time that we have had an autonomous police authority. It does not have the contingency cover from the county council that it used to have. Therefore, it has to build its own general reserve for such purposes. It has problems with the payment of the lump sum element of pensions, which it did not have previously. That is the contention of the police authority, and that is why it is having to put up its estimate of expenditure to a figure way above what the Minister is talking about.
misunderstanding. There is no statutory requirement on any authority to put money into reserves. I know that some people say that they have to take 2 per cent. to put into reserves, but there is no requirement to do so. It may be wise for an authority to do so if it can afford it--the Audit Commission recommends that that should take place--but if some forces are not capable of doing that, there is no compulsion on them.
Admittedly, every force and organisation would want reserves. My bank manager would like me to have some reserves, rather than an overdraft. All authorities want to have money in reserves in case they are faced with a police or education contingency. It is not right for an authority to say that a 4 or 5 per cent. increase is, in fact, a cut, because it has to put 2 per cent. in reserves.
Mr. Cann: Is the Minister really saying that he does not think that the Suffolk police authority needs to establish a reserve in case an event such as occurred at Brightlingsea happens in the area? Can I tell the authority that the Minister says not to worry, as the Government will bail it out at the end of year if it goes over budget because of unforeseen circumstances? I think not. Is it not the case that the Government have a contingency reserve of 4 per cent., or £7 billion out of £286 billion, in this financial year?
Column 1043may be floating threats to close some rural police stations or to reduce the number of officers--it cannot say that the Government have told it to put money into reserves. That is not the case. It is up to the authority to decide what it wants to do in the circumstances. We recognise the difficulty caused for police budgets by the large and rapid growth in the police pensions bill, which is increasing exponentially each year. That is not unique to Suffolk.
The way in which we have dealt with pensions in this year's formula is the way the police service wanted it done. Nine per cent. of funding is allocated in relation to pension payments. That figure comes from police budget statistics produced by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy. It is the proportion of national police funding which is spent on pensions. The decision to use this figure was taken following discussions with the Association of Chief Police Officers, and local authority representatives. As the police themselves were keen to ensure, however, this funding is not hypothecated. Those forces which need to spend more than 9 per cent. of their funding on pensions can do so, while those forces in the fortunate position of having lower than average pension commitments can spend the remainder of their pensions allocation on other policing services.
Having decided that 9 per cent. of the global pot--all the available funding--should be allocated to cover, nominally, pensions expenditure, a model was developed for the projection of pensions expenditure in each force area so that the 9 per cent. of funding could be allocated according to the relative need in each area.
The Government Actuary's department developed a pensions model which uses data on the age, gender, rank and length of service distribution of each force which were collected in August 1992 to make these forward projections of pensions expenditure. During the consultation period on the police funding settlement--we have similar consultation periods on local government finance--several points came to light in the pensions model which required revision.
The model had not fully taken into account the costs of pensions which were borne by a force other than the force actually making the payment. It had also inadvertently taken the higher costs of some London pensions into account twice. Suffolk benefited from the change we made there. These points were revised before the police grant report was laid before Parliament on 30 January. I am pleased to say that Suffolk gained a further £270,000 from the first change and another £240,000 from the second, making a total increase in the funding of more than £500,000.
We recognise the difficulty caused for police budgets by the large and rapid growth in the police pensions bill throughout the whole of England and Wales. The way in which we have dealt with it in this year's formula is the way the police service itself wanted it done. I have already promised that we will look very carefully at this for 1996-97 in conjunction with ACPO.
The hon. Member for Ipswich said that ACPO had 15 meetings before criticising the formula. It is interesting that, after 15 meetings, its ultimate conclusion was that it did not like the end product. That shows the difficulty of constructing a formula that pleases everyone. Nevertheless, the police service generally does not want
Column 1044the former allocated system, which I intended to describe last week as negotiation by megaphone. Those forces which shouted the loudest for bobbies got them, while those which did not shout--irrespective of need--did not. Derbyshire is a classic example. In the early 1980s, Derbyshire did not ask for bobbies. It did not get them and it is now suffering terrible consequences. That method could not continue. The Government and the police service wanted a formula. The formula is not for my benefit of for the Government's benefit; it is for the benefit of the police service. This year, there is extra money for the police service above the level of inflation--Suffolk receives 4.7 per cent. --so the formula will not save the Treasury money. It is intended to try to allocate the extra resources fairly. I shall be delighted to take representations from all colleagues and from the police service on how to refine and improve the formula. It may be able to take into account factors which, some people allege, are not taken into account at present.
Rural sparsity is one of those factors. I recognise--coming, as I do, from Cumbria, a county that is even more rural than Suffolk--the particular difficulties faced by forces with sparse populations. We have to look again at whether the formula can more adequately reflect these difficulties. It is a matter not of independent or political will but of thorough work on the facts and figures to establish the true picture.
I know that the hon. Member for Ipswich did not raise this matter, and I did not have a chance to respond to it last night, but some Opposition Members have alleged that we made a £30 million error in the budget. That is absolute nonsense. The figure came in a report in The Guardian , and people who believe what they read in The Guardian should not be surprised if it gets things absolutely wrong. There is no truth in that at all. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will draw that fact to the attention of the shadow Home Secretary, as I did not manage to respond to that point last night.
I shall conclude by referring to the successes of Suffolk. While we are talking about police funding--I well understand that the force would like more money, although it has, in the circumstances, come out well in comparison with the rest of the country with 4.7 per cent.--we must not forget that Suffolk has been tremendously successful as far as the police are concerned. The police in Suffolk are doing a good job.
To set the funding in context, we must look at the successes of last year. Our statistics show that there was a 6 per cent. drop in recorded offences in Suffolk for the 12 months ending in June 1994. Within that figure, robbery offences dropped by 23 per cent., and there was a 15 per cent. drop in vehicle offences. Burglaries--which worry many of the constituents of the hon. Member for Ipswich and my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Central (Mr. Lord)--dropped by 12 per cent.
The report by Her Majesty's inspector of constabulary on the Suffolk force for 1994 described it as maintaining one of the highest detection rates for recorded crime in the country. I believe that the settlement that Suffolk is getting under the formula will ensure that there will be no change in that tremendous success rate and that its efficiency will not be affected at all.
Column 1045Government are putting that in jeopardy in the coming year because of the settlement? It is not a success story that the number of police officers on the beat in Suffolk was reduced by 43 last year.
Mr. Maclean: Since the Government came into office, Suffolk has had an extra 132 police officers approved in its establishment. I shall not be responsible on 1 April for deciding the number of police officers that Suffolk can have or recruit. We shall no longer play a role in fixing the establishment. However, despite the excellent success of Suffolk--I understand that it is now structuring--it could do a little more to release more bobbies for the beat. It could continue the civilianisation programme because Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary reports that, at the end of 1993, some 50 police officers were doing jobs that could have been done by civilians.
Throughout England and Wales, we have seen the restructuring and thinning out of senior and middle management ranks. Hundreds of chief superintendents and inspectors have gone, and we have more constables instead. In the first 10 months of 1994, England and Wales had 600 more bobbies on the beat--
"Yes. I remember Adlestrop--
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.
The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop--only the name."
Edward Thomas drew up at Adlestrop on the line from Oxford to Worcester, on a journey on the "Old Worse and Worse", or Oxford Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway to give it its more accurate name. Had he continued his journey just a few more miles, one of his most evocative contributions to poetry could have been very different:
"Yes. I remember Wyre Piddle--the name . . . "
Well, actually, it could not. The Great Western Railway, which in 1917 owned the "Old Worse and Worse", could not come to terms with the village's name, preferring the more anodyne "Wyre Halt". Sadly, little sign of Adlestrop now remains, and of Wyre Halt no trace is visible. But Wyre Piddle is as famous as Adlestrop, although probably for the wrong reasons. It is a case of once heard, never forgotten. Sometimes, embarrassing or unfortunate names are shed by those to whom they belong. One thinks of Marion Morrison, better known as John Wayne. Whoever heard of a cowboy called Marion? Would Big Daddy, the all-in wrestler, have been taken quite as seriously had he been loyal to his given name--Shirley Crabtree? Would Elton John have been the phenomenon that he was and remains as just plain old Reg Dwight? Wyre Piddle is proud of its name. Indeed, it has given the village a real advantage here in the House and at the Department of Transport as successive hon. Members representing the village, including my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Mr. Spicer), have lobbied for its long-overdue bypass.
Its name is celebrated in one local poem, attributed by some to one of my illustrious predecessors, Sir Gerald Nabarro:
"Upton Snodsbury, Tibberton and Crowle
Wyre Piddle, North Piddle and Piddle-in-the-hole".
The name of Piddle-in-the-hole is no more, although I believe that land there was once farmed by the grandfather of my hon. Friend the Under- Secretary of State for Further and Higher Education. North Piddle lies on no main road and need not detain us today, but a little further south, on the same Piddle Brook, lies Wyre Piddle itself. Prehistoric men buried their dead here. It features in the Domesday book as the rather more discreet Wyre Pidele. It is not a large village, but neither is it small, with 386 electors. Its perfect church, with its early Norman chancel arch, is situated on a bank above the Avon, flowing from Stratford to its junction with the Severn.
Column 1047It is little wonder that the situation has inspired artists because the view across to Bredon hill, itself the subject of poetry by A.E. Housman, is captivating. Writing in 1949, L.T.C. Rolt, in his book "Worcestershire", said:
"Just below the village of Wyre Piddle is Wyre Lock with its curious diamond-shaped chamber, and here again the natural scene and human handiwork conspire together to reward the river traveller with a sight that no lover of England can easily forget. Over the outspread lock-beams a silver reach curves away between level water meadows, bordered by ranks of willow, which lead the eye towards the middle distance where, in perfect contrast to this level landscape, the glorious fourteenth century tower of Pershore soars upward, a benediction in stone. The scene is reminiscent of the view of Salisbury from another Avon".
Although the village still has several black and white houses, typical of Worcestershire, many are crumbling from vibrations generated by heavy traffic in the narrow main road. Structural problems are only one of the many reasons for the urgent construction of a road that will bring only benefit to my constituents and motorists alike.
The construction of a bypass will affect few businesses. We have an excellent pub in the village, the Anchor, situated between the main road and the Avon. It is a real local, but those coming from further afield to sample its charms--and its fine beer--will still be able to gain access from both directions, thanks to the design and route of the proposed new road. I know that one garage will lose passing trade, but I understand that the owner accepts that, and local authorities are attempting to minimise the impact.
The bypass will affect not just Wyre Piddle. We must not forget the plucky villagers of Upper Moor. That hamlet, with just 36 electors, is situated on the Evesham side of Wyre Piddle. Original plans for the bypass did not include Upper Moor. I am delighted that the lobbying skills of the villagers, who count among their number a literary agent and a BBC radio presenter, have led the county council to the wise conclusion that the bypass should relieve them, too. That was a wise decision by the county council, not just for the sake of my constituents but for the sake of all road users. The road at that point is particularly hazardous because a long bend conceals the houses of Upper Moor. A fatal accident occurred there recently and there would be many more if the bypass terminated between there and Wyre Piddle. Upper Moor residents feel that they are often overlooked. It is a pleasure to ensure that they are not overlooked in today's debate.
The road through Wyre Piddle is the old B4084, recently reclassified as the A4538. It forms part of the so-called Pershore corridor, and is a crucial link between the M5 at junction 6, north Worcester and Evesham. There it connects with the A435, currently the subject of a major improvement--the Norton Lenchwick bypass--by the Department of Transport, linking up to Redditch and junction 3 of the M42, and the A46 to Stratford, Warwick, the M40, Coventry and the M6.
Small additional works will be needed in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South just outside Evesham, at the so-called "Squires Link" to the A435 and the Evesham bypass when the Wyre Piddle bypass is built.
"Doctor Foster went to Gloucester
He stepped in a piddle right up to his middle"?
Column 1048The word that he has cleverly played on has now become "puddle". My hon. Friend is right to say that we need a bypass around Wyre Piddle. As he said, I first raised this subject 20 years ago. Does he accept that it is particularly necessary for my constituency because of the pressure that it will take off traffic going through Pershore? Will he, at some point in his speech, refer to the fact that there is a pecking order for bypasses in our county and that Broadway has now reached the top of the pecking order? That should not be prejudiced and although the need for a Wyre Piddle bypass must be accepted, we must first go ahead with the Broadway bypass.
Mr. Luff: I am delighted to endorse what my hon. Friend said. I hope to return to precisely those points later in my speech. The county council said in its July 1994 bid for transport supplementary grant:
"The present road network includes two broadly parallel routes between Worcester and Evesham, namely A44 and A4538 (formerly B4084). For particular journeys one route is more attractive than the other, but overall traffic volumes are similar on the two routes." In a public consultation exercise in early 1992, which examined the traffic problems and strategy for the Pershore corridor as a whole, various options for relieving traffic congestion in that part of Worcestershire were floated. It is fair to say that some of those options aroused considerable public anger. For example, concern focused on a proposal to build viaducts and bridges across the meadows and the Avon to relieve traffic problems in Pershore and Wyre Piddle.
That consultation produced a clear consensus that the best strategy was to stick with the long-established plans to bypass Wyre Piddle to the north and build a short western bypass, which would enable Pershore's problems to be addressed, at least in part. This debate is about the northern, and more substantial, road but I will return to the western route.
In March 1994, a further public consultation was held on possible routes for the northern road. Again, it produced a clear consensus, subsequently endorsed by Hereford and Worcester county council. Not surprisingly, local people have had their suspicions about the county council's real intentions. The road has been discussed for a long time and need for it is growing daily. The earliest date on which construction can realistically begin is early 1997, but the approach adopted by the county has commanded my complete confidence, and I pay tribute to the work done by Dr. Martin Heyes, whom I still think of as the county engineer but who now rejoices in the title, "Director of Environmental Services". I pay tribute to his staff --of course, it is easy for me to do so when they have come out in support of the route that my constituents and I favour. In its document produced to support the March 1994 consultation, the county summed up the situation. It said:
"The existing route is of sub-standard width and poor alignment and falls short of standards required to carry the future predicted traffic on the A4538.
The centre of Wyre Piddle is a conservation area and there is a worsening environmental situation in an otherwise very pleasant village, caused particularly by heavy vehicles and growing congestion. To the east, the hamlet of Upper Moor suffers similarly with houses which front the road enduring noise and vibration. Direct access on to the A4538 is at times difficult and dangerous for those houses which abut the carriageway."
Column 1049That is a slightly dry way of putting it, to say the least. The existing main road through Wyre Piddle carries on average 12,850 vehicles a day. The predicted flows in the bypass design year of 2013 are between 17,250 and 14,750 vehicles on the bypass, with another 5, 000 vehicles using the village itself. Such traffic is simply unsustainable without the bypass.
At the village war memorial the road narrows and turns towards the village hall. The bypass committee says that the road is already carrying up to 30 large refuse lorries per hour to the major landfill site to the north. It will not be long before two trucks meet head on or a car finds that there is not enough room to pass without mounting the pavement and killing a pedestrian. There is a serious accident just waiting to happen.
If an accident does not occur in the village itself, it will occur at one of the two railway bridges at either end of the village or in Upper Moor as a resident's car seeks to join the main road and is hit by a speeding driver, or a driver, despairing of ever getting on to the main road at the war memorial, takes a risk that does not pay off.
The county council has kindly provided me with the 10-year accident record for Wyre Piddle and Upper Moor. The words "failed to negotiate bend" feature more than once. In this 10-year period there have been 33 accidents, 12 of them serious, 61 vehicles have been involved and there have been 49 casualties. Mercifully, there has been only one fatality--at Upper Moor when a 16-year-old pedestrian was knocked down by a car in December 1993.
Every month that the bypass is delayed we are putting at risk the lives of more pedestrians, residents and other drivers. Leaving to one side the environmental issues, the benefits to Pershore and the need to cope with traffic to and from the newly widened M5, there is an overwhelming case for the road on safety grounds alone. The road is increasingly dangerous not just because of volume but because of speed of traffic. The 30 mph limit through Wyre Piddle is widely flouted. The county council is in dialogue with the parish council and its chairman, Mr. Gary Robinson. The parish council has enthusiastically pushed the case for the road for more years than any of us care to remember. It knows that traffic calming and management measures are not a solution, but just a temporary palliative. I am grateful to the Minster's officials for the help that I have received from them in explaining to the parish council the possibilities for traffic calming and speed limit enforcement. I hope that in the years until the new road is built some new measures can be introduced, but they will never be a substitute for the northern Wyre Piddle bypass.
The Minister will have heard me mention the railway through Wyre Piddle on a number of occasions. Engineered by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, it still offers a fine service to Oxford and London from the Worcester and Pershore stations in my constituency, which also serve the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South, and from Evesham, which is just along the line. Early morning InterCity 125s act as alarm clocks for residents of Wyre Piddle whose homes are close to the line. Wyre Halt may have closed, but the Pershore and Evesham stations are close by--at least if one has access to a car.
Column 1050Investment in new rolling stock has recently transformed the line. The better, more frequent services have resulted in a large increase in passenger traffic, sufficient to ensure that, for the first time in living memory, the railway covers its operating costs. I should like to see still more investment in the line, even though it would probably mean the end of the fine semaphore signals at Worcester Shrub Hill. New signalling and a few passing loops, well short of full redualling of that now single-track line, could increase volumes substantially.
Is that an alternative to the northern Wyre Piddle bypass? I think not. Traffic is being generated from the M5, from Evesham and the Cotswolds, from the landfill site and from the proposed new chicken farm on Throckmorton airfield--a disgraceful decision, but that is another story; perhaps for another Adjournment debate. More money is needed for the railway and it would bring real benefits. It would bring more mobility to my constituents who do not have cars--and there are many of them--but I fear that investing in the railway would have only a very slight effect on traffic volumes in Wyre Piddle. We must also set the Wyre Piddle bypass in the context of the county's wider transport priorities--as my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South has asked me to do--and that will also give me a chance to thank the Minister for a wise decision by his Department. The Worcester western bypass was, until the announcement before Christmas by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, the county's top priority. The confirmation that the road will begin to be built around the turn of the year, subject to the outcome of a public inquiry, has brought enormous relief to my constituents in Worcester. The attractive shopping centre of St. Johns will be able to breathe again as all the M5 to Hereford traffic moves to the new road. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for the way in which he listened to the bipartisan pleas about that road. The Broadway bypass on the A44 was the other major scheme for which the county bid unsuccessfully last year. It now moves to the top of the priority list, closely followed by the Bordesley bypass on the A441 and Wyre Piddle.
However, we must not lose sight of the Wyre Piddle western bypass. Although the northern road will help enormously, I cannot let this opportunity pass without reminding the Minister that we regard the western road, which I have discussed with him in the past, as being of strategic significance too. The county's transport supplementary grant bid last year stated:
"the benefits to the village will not be maximised until the Wyre Piddle Western by-pass is also constructed."
That road would form a link between the B4083 from Pershore to the A4538 itself. It would maximise the benefit of the Wyre Piddle northern road to Pershore and bring local benefits. Those local benefits have led the Department to reject even supplementary credit approvals for the road, and that in turn has led to the loss of a generous private sector contribution to the cost of the road. I hope that I can persuade the Minister to reflect again on the western road, and sanction its construction before too long.
The Wyre Piddle bypass has never been closer to completion. Compulsory purchase orders could be made this autumn. Assuming a public inquiry is necessary--I believe it may not be--there is no reason why a decision
Column 1051could not be made by the Secretary of State on the planning issues next October, with tenders requested at about Christmas 1996. Construction could then begin in January or February 1997. It would be the culmination of a campaign, probably spanning decades, begun by Sir Gerald Nabarro, conducted by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South and continued energetically by my predecessor, Lord Walker.
Wyre Piddle is moving up everyone's priority list, as today's debate shows, but just at our moment of victory, is the cup to be dashed from our lips? The tide seems to be turning against new road building. Will that tide sweep away the Wyre Piddle bypass and hundreds of equally important schemes up and down the country? The first enemy of such schemes seems to be the Royal Commission on environmental pollution and its report on transport and the environment which was published on 26 October last year. Its radical proposals were seen as one of the most comprehensive attacks on road building ever made by any establishment body. Its press release made the point time and again:
"the report identifies as major adverse effects of the present transport system . . . the impact of road building."
"a road building programme which, although spending more money that ever before, would not stop congestion getting worse." "Resources should be switched from road-building to public transport."
"A continuing spiral of further road building leading to further traffic growth would not be sustainable."
So it goes on. Alarm bells began to ring in Wyre Piddle and in similar villages and communities around the country, but worse was to come.
Shortly before Christmas, a new acronym struck further fear into the residents of Wyre Piddle. This time it was SACTRA--the Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment. Published with the apparent endorsement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, its central conclusion was probably
"that it is possible for the provision of extra road capacity to induce extra traffic".
At that point I wrote to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State seeking reassurances that the Government's guarded welcome for the report did not spell trouble for Wyre Piddle. It is important to record another of SACTRA's conclusions:
"there is still need to consider additions to road capacity where they are environmentally and economically justified."
The essence of the case that I have made today is that the Wyre Piddle bypass will not generate new traffic and that it is environmentally and economically justified.
I recognise that the concerns about the rising tide of opposition to new road building will be echoed up and down the country. That is one of the reasons why I have sought this debate today and why I am so grateful that it has been granted.
Wyre Piddle may bring a smile to the lips, but its problems are very real. They stand as examples of the problems of many rural communities that are apprehensive that they may have missed the opportunity of the bypass for which they, like Wyre Piddle and Upper Moor, have been working and campaigning for so long. This debate gives the Minister an opportunity to reassure not just Wyre Piddle, but many other communities too.