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Column 114Question accordingly agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).
That Dr Robert Spink be discharged from the Education Committee and Mr. Nirj Joseph Deva be added to the Committee.-- [Mr. MacKay.]
That Mr. Bruce Grocott be discharged from the National Heritage Committee and Mr. Roland Boyes be added to the Committee.-- [Mr. MacKay.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Wells.]
Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North): I am extremely grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for granting this debate. I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for Railways and Roads, who is to reply to the debate, and to his various predecessors since 1989 who have had to succumb to the blandishments of myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Sir G. Bright), who wishes to be associated with my remarks tonight. As my hon. Friend the Minister knows, since the announcement in the White Paper of November 1989 that consideration would be given to widening the M1 between junctions 10 and 12, a shadow has been placed over the people who live in and around that part of my constituency and, especially, over those who are affected by the motorway. Some, of course, have lost their homes because the intended route will go through them. Some will lose parts of their gardens, with, in some cases, the motorway coming much closer to their homes. The majority will be affected not just by the increased traffic on the motorway, but by construction work in the area.
My hon. Friend will know that, since that time, numerous public meetings have taken place and numerous representations have been made to me, not just by people in the Luton area, but by those outside it as well. I shall confine my remarks to people in the borough of Luton. A responsible action group, under Mr. John Neal, has been set up. Throughout this longish period of more than five years, those people have worked closely with me. I hope that I have worked closely with my hon. Friend and with the Highways Agency, which has been co-operative in its dealings with my constituents and me. Obviously, I have made numerous personal visits. Only last week, I visited some the homes of about a dozen constituents who are affected. It has been the dominant topic in that area for some time because, as I think even you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, might realise, living close to a motorway of this intensity, and as busy as this one, makes life somewhat unpleasant from time to time.
The motorway carries about 120,000 vehicles per day on its three lanes on either side. Some of the residents affected were in their homes before the motorway was built. It opened in 1959 to a mere trickle of traffic. Just one or two cars are seen in some of the early photographs. Even at that time, no one envisaged that it would carry the traffic that it carries today, and that it is envisaged to carry later this season and into the next.
My constituents and their predecessors have been extremely tolerant of the terrible nuisance with which they have been afflicted. The amount of traffic has increased. There have been problems with noise and nuisance, the surrounding traffic going in and out of the motorway, accidents and pollution, and all the other factors that are associated with living near to what was for many years, and what probably still is, the major arterial road in our country. They have been extremely tolerant and, in many cases, badly compensated for what they have suffered.
Throughout all those problems, and throughout the discussions that we have had since the White Paper first envisaged the road, the agency has been extremely co-operative. I would be happy if my hon. Friend would
Column 116pass on my best wishes and thanks to the agency for what it has done, with the obvious caveat that it will keep up the good work, and be even more tolerant and co-operative in the next few months and years.
I should like to bring three small items to my hon. Friend's attention. I hope that he will answer them this evening or at a later date. The first relates to the timetable of events. Virtually 100 per cent. of the constituents affected accept that the road will go ahead and be built. We know that money has been put on one side for it. It has escaped all the savings that the Government will make on their roads programme expenditure.
After some five years of discussion, those people want things to move on as quickly as possible. As my hon. Friend knows, the public consultation exercise will finish on 17 March, just over a month away. I shall be interested to know what sort of reaction he has had to that exercise.
It is fairly obvious that there will be a public inquiry, but it would not be right for my hon. Friend the Minister to comment on that inquiry or its outcome. I warn those listening outside who represent pressure groups which, understandably, take the view that the road is not necessary, that the money could be better spent elsewhere and that construction is environmentally unfriendly, to be sensible when giving evidence to the inquiry so as not to cause any further delay. Many of my constituents are elderly and have been in their homes for many years. That is especially true of those whom I visited recently, some of whom are in their late 70s and 80s or even in their 90s. To delay the road for another few years because of arguments about the route or whether it should be built at all would be unfair to them. In all the years that I have been involved in this debate, only a handful have believed that the road could be stopped. I am not saying that they want the road to be built, but the majority may now realise that it could perhaps be of some benefit to them. I should be grateful if the Minister could outline a more precise timetable; my constituents would certainly be happier.
The project is running some six months late and, as we know, such things often tend to slip but it is important that my constituents have as firm an idea as my hon. Friend can give about the timetable so that they can plan their lives. Some, knowing that compensation could be forthcoming--mainly on blight notices--have not yet approached the Highways Agency. However, I have urged them to do so as quickly as possible. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to give some idea of the future programme.
The second and very important issue is the basis on which any compensation will be made. I know that this is going to be a thorny subject among the individuals affected, the local valuation officer and the Highways Agency. It would not be fitting for me, and certainly not for my hon. Friend, to enter into any financial negotiations or to talk about figures with individuals. I would not expect him to do so and, as he knows, I have never asked that he should.
There is an anomaly involving those who have been living beside the motorway since before 1959, who are known as the forgotten people. There are only a few and they are, by definition, elderly and do not want to move. It is extraordinary that because they are in what I call the pre-1959 position, the compensation that they have received--bearing in mind how busy the road is now--
Column 117has been minimal. It has been nothing more than a bit of secondary glazing from the local council and possibly an easement of what used to be known as their rates.
My hon. Friend will be familiar with the noise insulation regulations introduced in 1975, but my constituents have been left behind. I confess that I do not have high hopes of his reply, but those people must be taken into account. It is intolerable that people who bought their homes all those years ago will not get the compensation that those who moved in later will get because noise can now be measured and has increased. It sounds complicated, but the Minister knows exactly what I mean and I am sure that he is familiar with those regulations. I ask him with some passion to consider my comments and see whether some assistance can be offered.
Some people might get compensation because of a very recent judgment made, I believe, in the House of Lords on compensation offered for the depreciation of property between junctions 9 and 10, a section of the motorway that is now almost complete. I realise that this is hot off the press, but my constituents are asking, rightly, whether my hon. Friend can say whether the judgment will make any difference to them. Some letters from the Highways Agency appear to hint that it could. If that is the case, I hope that my hon. Friend can clarify whether the judgment made in that case could affect my constituents. If money is available, I am anxious for them to get every bit of compensation possible because, by heaven, they deserve it for living next to that road.
The third point, which is as important as any point that I wish to bring to my hon. Friend's attention, is the problem of noise and nuisance which inevitably goes with motorways. My hon. Friend has done his homework, so he will know that, right at the start, I pleaded that the noise barriers should be the most up to date. I appreciate that modern technology is improving sound barriers all the time, whether earth barriers, fence barriers or natural barriers. I do not want my hon. Friend to tell me tonight exactly what sort of barriers there will be and then to find myself standing here in two years' time, God and the electorate of Luton willing, saying to my hon. Friend, who will probably be in the Cabinet by then, or to his successor, that we asked for the most up-to-date barriers. It is important that work continues on that side so that when the road is built, we can say firmly that the barriers are the best available on an almost no- expense-spared basis. In a project of £400 million, a few extra million pounds spent on barriers for the comfort of my constituents is essential.
If there is any opportunity within the logistics of building the road for some of the barriers to be in place while the construction work is going on, that must be done. I know that my hon. Friend has made promises and I respect them. It is, however, essential that while the work is going on, the noise and nuisance are kept to a minimum. Ironically, the noise from the construction work, some of which will go on into the night--my residents appreciate that because they want the job done quickly--will be worse than the noise generated by the motorway and will be almost incessant. We must have further reassurances that where possible--I admit that with earth barriers it may not be possible--some form of sound insulation will be provided while the work takes place. When it is completed, the noise barriers must be the most up to date.
Column 118The surface of the road should, again, be the most up to date and the quietest. I appreciate that this will be a matter of cost to an extent. Having said that, now that we can develop what is called whispering concrete--that sounds almost like a pop group, Mr. Deputy Speaker; I assure you that it is a form of tarmacadam--the noise will be lessened. Some 70 per cent. of the noise from motorways comes from tyres. Everything that we can do, therefore, to ensure that the surface of the road is the quietest possible, with the most up-to-date technology, will help. I hope that my hon. Friend may be able to give me some help on that point. The noise from the tyres is excessive, especially in the summer months when people sit outside in conditions that many of us who are fortunate enough to live away from roads can never really understand-- unless we suffer them while visiting people who live bang beside motorways. A quiet surface is essential.
I am glad that the predictions for noise in the majority of the area about which we are talking--we are all hanging on a string on this one--are that the level of noise could go down slightly. We are grateful for that and it will be of some comfort to my constituents. If we can get the noise level down even further by laying the right road surface, I hope that such a surface will be used.
I hope that my hon. Friend will bring some comfort to my beleaguered constituents; I feel strongly about the matter. It is no fun living next to a major road with 120,000 vehicles a day going by virtually 24 hours a day. It is certainly no fun not to be able to sit in the garden in the summer or not to be able to open the windows. It is no fun hardly to be able to have a normal conversation in one's own home, let alone outside one's home, as happens in some cases. That is why I hope that my hon. Friend will bring them some comfort this evening.
Secondly, I hope that the compensation that my hon. Friend offers, and continues to offer, to my constituents, either through his Department or elsewhere, will be more than adequate. It must be some sort of comfort, especially for the older generation who do not want to move from their houses, and it can give them some financial relief for the burden that many of them have suffered for about 40 years. Thirdly, if it is within his power--it is, to a certain extent--my hon. Friend must speed up the process as much as he can. If he can give me some comfort tonight, he will certainly have the gratitude of my constituents. I make no apology--this subject will not go away until the road is completed. Indeed, once the road has been built, there will undoubtedly be compensation claims for the noise levels. The quicker the process and the greater the compensation, the happier my constituents in that unfortunate area will be.
The Minister for Railways and Roads (Mr. John Watts): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) on securing this debate and on his assiduous advocacy of the concerns of his constituents. There is certainly no need for any apology for continuing to bring those concerns to my attention, and that of the Highways Agency and of the House. I also thank him for his generous comments about the agency and its staff, which will be greatly appreciated.
Column 119I welcome the opportunity to discuss a number of important issues associated with the proposed widening of the M1 between junctions 10 and 15 and to tell the House of progress made by the Highways Agency, which handles the scheme on our behalf. My hon. Friend raised issues that concern people who live near the motorway and those who feel strongly about transport and its impact upon their environment. He set out his concerns clearly and thoroughly.
As my hon. Friend reminded us, since it was built in the late 1950s, the M1 has become a heavily used strategic motorway route, linking London, the midlands and the north. In recent years, traffic flows have increased considerably and, between junction 10 and junction 15, the M1 carries flows of between 92,000 and 121,000 vehicles per day on different sections. Congestion occurs regularly, especially during peak periods or when there are accidents or incidents.
Traffic is expected to continue growing, increasing congestion and making driving conditions on the motorway intolerable. If that is not dealt with, drivers will be tempted to divert to local roads, bringing more pollution and noise into local communities. That is particularly true of my hon. Friend's constituency, as he and his constituents know only too well.
Long queues develop at peak times, especially near junctions. Widening is needed to relieve existing congestion and, for that reason, is one of the Highways Agency's priority 1 schemes. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced on 19 December that we are refocusing the roads programme to concentrate more on the improvement of the existing network, rather than on entirely new routes. The scheme for widening the M1 between junctions 10 and 12 is entirely in line with that philosophy.
Proposals to widen the M1 between junctions 10 and 12, and on to 15, will bring substantial economic and safety benefits to road users. The widening will reduce the cost that congestion imposes on industry, reduce accidents, save time for road users and reduce urban congestion. By easing congestion, air quality will also improve, as traffic that is moving freely produces less harmful emissions than stop-start traffic.
The Highways Agency also examines carefully the environmental impact of schemes and the measures needed to mitigate that impact. A considerable advantage in building on the existing network is that it limits intrusion. That is no reason why those living alongside existing routes should suffer from that policy. It is therefore very much our aim to improve the environmental context and level of protection, wherever possible. That is illustrated by this scheme. The widening solution uses a mixture of parallel widening, asymmetrical widening and symmetrical widening. The parallel and asymmetric techniques enable us to move the motorway further away from existing communities, with the benefits that that brings. The alignment through the southern part of Luton, in my hon. Friend's constituency, is an example and there are others further north within the scheme. The parallel technique also enables widening to take place with minimal interference to traffic during construction. Noise levels will naturally fall where the motorway is moved away
Column 120from properties, but we shall take other specific measures, including contouring and landscaping, for more general environmental protection.
We are all too aware that existing traffic noise next to the motorway is generally very high. For most properties in Luton, existing noise levels fall in the range of 58 to 78 decibels, although for some properties levels are higher. The area around junction 11, Dunstable road, is very noisy where the motorway is elevated and traffic is heavy.
The proposed widening includes extensive environmental protection: noise barriers are proposed throughout the built-up areas and at other sensitive locations along the route. In Luton, barrier heights will vary between 9.5 ft and 16.5 ft, depending on the local situation. The use of the best acoustically absorbent barriers where appropriate and justified will reduce reflected noise and offer significant benefits in the urban area. As they cost between two or three times the price of standard reflective barriers, we must be satisfied that the benefits are commensurate with the additional cost of using them.
The overall aim is significantly to reduce existing traffic noise for people living near the motorway. Once statutory procedures are complete, and given the availability of funds, noise mitigation provisions that can be put into place before the remainder of the scheme is complete will be installed so that their benefits may be felt as soon as possible. For many properties, noise will be immediately reduced and our calculations show that, 15 years after widening has been completed, noise levels will still be significantly lower or no higher than now for some 2,350 properties in Luton close to the motorway. Over 100 properties in Luton will qualify for noise insulation from either traffic or construction noise, to which my hon. Friend referred in particular. The Highways Agency will approach those concerned in due course to arrange that.
My hon. Friend referred to the proposals' blighting effect on some of his constituents' ability to sell their property. So far, the agency has bought 41 properties in my hon. Friend's constituency under the statutory blight legislation, where land will be needed for the scheme. It has also used the Secretary of State's discretionary powers to acquire a further eight properties and has, unfortunately, had to turn down 17 other requests for purchase. It will look at 11 of those again in the light of the Court of Appeal judgment in the case of Lieutenant Colonel Owen, to which my hon. Friend referred. New guidelines are being prepared urgently to reflect the implications of that judgment, and anyone who believes himself eligible under the new guidelines will be free to reapply and have his case reconsidered.
My hon. Friend made a strong case for the "forgotten few"--those living in the area before the motorway was first built. I am sorry to disappoint him with regard to that small number of residents whose residence predates the opening of the motorway. Unfortunately, legislation does not provide for compensation in respect of existing noise nuisance. It provides only for compensation for noise arising from the widening proposals if it increases noise by at least 1 decibel to more than 68 decibels. Primary legislation would be necessary to provide relief for that group of residents, and I do not hold out the hope that such legislation will be forthcoming.
Column 121As with all our schemes, our procedures will provide a wide range of opportunities for those affected to contribute to the debate and raise their concerns. Public consultation exhibitions were held at local venues in November 1992. Individual members of the public and representative bodies took great interest in the proposals and made a number of suggestions and requests. In the light of local people's views and concerns, the proposals published by the agency last November included improved noise mitigation measures and further development of the design of the junctions to ease access for traffic and reduce the environmental impact.
As my hon. Friend said, the opportunity for people to make representations about the environmental statement or to object to the draft orders does not expire until 17 March. The next stage is likely to be a public inquiry held before an independent inspector. The timing of that will depend on the issues that arise from that objection period.
However, I can assure my hon. Friend that there will be no undue delay on our part in taking that important scheme forward to a public inquiry. Following the inquiry, a decision would not be taken on the way forward until my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Transport and for the Environment had considered the inspector's report and the objections that had been raised.
I am afraid that I cannot give any more definite idea of timing, because so many matters, especially the length of time that the inquiry will take, are not under our control.
That scheme is important, affecting one of our most important motorways. We are taking account of the various events that bear on the road programme, but schemes such as that must continue to be developed. In doing so, we and the Highways Agency will be at pains to ensure that we redress the sufferings of individuals for the general good when we can, either by the design of the scheme or by the various means of compensation. If they
Column 122are still not satisfied, it will be open to them to express their opinions to us in writing or by seeking to appear at the expected public inquiry.
My hon. Friend referred to road surfaces. Porous asphalt is often advocated to reduce surface noise, but in its current form it would have inadequate wearing characteristics for the volume of traffic that uses the motorway. The increased maintenance costs and the delays and disruption that frequent maintenance would lead to would, in such circumstances, make it economically unviable. However, as my hon. Friend will appreciate, development of materials may have improved the strength of noise-reducing surfaces sufficiently before the decision about the type of surface needs to be taken, and we shall keep the position under review so that if there are stronger, lower-noise materials available to us, we shall certainly give careful consideration to using them.
My hon. Friend referred to whisper concrete. We are testing the use of whisper concrete on the M18 between junctions 5 and 6, and the preliminary results appear promising. I have seen an experiment on a new stretch of bypass in Derbyshire, where whisper concrete is also being applied.
I have listened carefully to all the arguments made so well by my hon. Friend, and those arguments will be considered in greater detail by the Highways Agency. I hope that I have been able to give him some of the assurances that he and his constituents have sought, and I am sorry that I have not been able to offer him all the assurances that they would have wished to hear from me.
However, my hon. Friend can be assured that, in proceeding with that important scheme, we shall take the fullest account of any measures that we can use to mitigate its impact on those who have to live near the M1 through Luton.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at eighteen minutes to Eleven o'clock.
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