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10.11 pm

Sir John Cope (Northavon): I rise briefly to support what the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) has said. More of his constituents are affected than mine, but some of mine are affected in ways similar to those that he has outlined.

The debate is not about road building in principle. I detected some hesitancy about road building in principle in some of the hon. Gentleman's remarks. I agree that we should be selective about which roads are to be built. For example, I was against the A46 improvements that were proposed not long ago, not far from the scheme that we are discussing.

Local people all support the completion of the ring road. It is important for my constituency and for the hon. Gentleman's constituency. It is also important for the whole of the south part of Bristol. As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, it is important for the completion of Emerson's Green, the new development in the north part, and to ensure that it is a success.

Like the hon. Gentleman, I find it extremely irritating, to put it mildly, that the two objectors keep getting legal aid to delay the scheme. I find that decision of the Legal Aid Board difficult to understand.

I support the hon. Gentleman's comments. I would like the road to be completed as soon as possible. I reinforce his pleas to my hon. Friend the Minister in support of that objective.

10.14 pm

The Minister for Railways and Roads (Mr. John Watts): The hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Northavon (Sir J. Cope) have both explained the history of the scheme and the frustration which they and their constituents feel at the lack of progress in implementing what is obviously a vital missing link. Coupled with that is the frustration of their constituents at seeing their money as taxpayers being recycled through legal aid and used to thwart their wishes. The hon. Member for Kingswood will understand that I cannot comment on legal aid policy.

The hon. Gentleman and my right hon. Friend have said that the opponents of the scheme live a comfortable distance away from the problem. In this age of acronyms, I have one of my own for such people. They are not NIMBYs--not in my back yard--but what I describe as NIYBYs--not in your back yard. They tell those who suffer from traffic congestion that they should be denied a solution to their problems.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the lack of progress is not in the hands of the local authority or my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. It is

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the further legal action by Mr. Nicolson and Mr. McNeeny which is causing the delay. However, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has also applied to the court for an expedited hearing. We believe that it is important that the issue should be resolved quickly.

On funding, I can reassure the hon. Gentleman in the light of today's earlier debate, that, although he might have thought he was, he is not in fact asking for an increase in the total of public expenditure. The funding for the road would come out of the existing baseline of my Department. When it is able to be funded and can go ahead, it will not be adding to the control total. He will not be adding to the criticisms that my right hon. and hon. Friends were heaping upon other members of his party earlier.

On the funding of the scheme, we are satisfied that it continues to meet the Department's criteria for transport supplementary grant under the TPP system, and, subject to the outcome of the current legal processes, the normal rules will apply. That means that, unless there is any

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significant change in the nature of the scheme, and as long as work progresses satisfactorily and the costs remain reasonable after it has passed its final legal hurdles, we will fund it through to completion in the normal way.

The amount allocated to the project for 1997-98 is, as the hon. Gentleman said, only £1 million. That is a recognition that the delay caused by the further legal challenge is likely to prevent a much greater rate of spend in that financial year. It is not an indication that we have lost the will to support the project, but it shows simply that the phasing of expenditure will be less in 1997-98 and more in the subsequent years.

I hope that my response has given the hon. Member for Kingswood the assurance he needs, personally and for his constituents. I join him in hoping that the legal issues are resolved rapidly. At that time, the authority will be in a position to go out to tender and start the construction. The hon. Gentleman has my assurance that funding will continue through to completion on the basis that I have set out.

Question put and agreed to.

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