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10.45 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Ms Glenda Jackson): Before I respond to the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson), may I offer my apologies to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to the whole House and particularly to my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) for my failure to be present in the House for last night's Adjournment debate. I can offer neither excuse nor reason, simply my most humble apologies.

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I thank the hon. Member for Eastbourne for raising these important issues, and for being so generous in affording time to his hon. Friends on issues that are clearly important not only to Eastbourne but to East Sussex. I also thank him for setting his concerns on infrastructure improvements in East Sussex strongly and clearly within the context of community needs, regeneration and safety.

I understand the hon. Gentleman's desire for early decisions on the schemes that he mentioned, but he will know that the Government have embarked on a fundamental review of transport policy. This is not a "fobbing off" exercise. Our objectives are for a strong economy, a sustainable environment and an inclusive society. As he pointed out, transport is a vital part of all those aims.

The backdrop to our fundamental review is a candid recognition that we need a shift in direction. Revised national road traffic forecasts published last month show traffic increasing by nearly 40 per cent. over the next 20 years. If current policies continue, congestion will get worse, the impact on the environment will be even more severe, and those who have no access to private transport will find it even more difficult to get around.

We must develop an integrated transport system that makes the best use of the contribution that each mode can make; ensures that all options are considered on a basis that is fair and is seen to be fair; and takes into account, from the outset, considerations of accessibility, integration, safety, the environment and the economy. Above all--I have little doubt that the hon. Gentleman will agree with me here--an integrated transport system must be sustainable. One of the encouraging aspects of what is, indeed, an ambitious task is the degree of consensus on the need for change.

It is a feature of the policy development work now under way that we are involving a wide range of external advice and expertise, including local authorities, business, trade unions, transport professionals and transport users. That is the context for the roads review, examining the role that trunk roads should play in an integrated and sustainable transport policy. Against the background of increased congestion, we have three broad options for roads: first, to make better use of existing infrastructure; secondly, to manage demand; and thirdly, to provide new infrastructure.

To make best use of existing infrastructure is the obvious first choice. It has been provided at substantial cost in both financial and environmental terms, and we must make the best use of that investment. Technologies old and new can help in making better use of our roads network. A number of measures can also bring safety benefits, and we will need to ensure that these are given proper priority. We need, however, to be realistic about what the various options can deliver.

We must also look seriously at other harder options: managing demand and providing new infrastructure. Managing demand is a vast topic. It encompasses reducing the need to travel, by land use planning for example, an assessment of the extent to which a shift to other modes can be encouraged, and inevitably the question of controlling demand by pricing or rationing mechanisms.

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At a local level, many local authorities are seeking, by means of integrated transport packages, to combine these measures, so that mobility is maintained but adverse consequences of that mobility are reduced.

The Highways Agency's programme of small safety schemes is continuing, but major new construction is under review. Providing new infrastructure is a very difficult option, financially and in terms of the impact that it may have on the environment. Our starting point is that we shall not proceed with major new road construction unless we are satisfied that there is no better alternative; even then, there will be difficult choices to be made within the limited resources available.

There is no substitute for rigorous case-by-case examination of the options. Volume II of our consultation document "What Role for Trunk Roads?" sets out, region by region, the perceived traffic problems and the roads programme inherited from our predecessors.

Mr. Wardle: As my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) has already asked, how long is all this likely to take?

Ms Jackson: We have given a clear commitment that the White Paper, which will be fundamental to our policy for integrated transport, will be published early next year.

The existence of a scheme in the inherited programme is seen as prima facie evidence that there is a transport problem. We are seeking from our regional consultations a view on whether these are the most important problems or whether others deserve greater priority. We envisage two outputs from that part of the review: a firm, short-term investment programme and a programme of studies to consider the remaining problems out of which the medium and long-term investment programme will emerge.

The Government office for the south-east has held three day-long seminars as part of our consultation process on integrated transport. A seminar in Ashford on 14 October considered transport corridors in the east of the region, including the south coast route and north-south routes between the M25 and the south coast.

Points that the hon. Member for Eastbourne has made about the importance of the Polegate bypass, the improvements between Lewes and Polegate, and other trunk road schemes in terms of safety, regeneration, environmental relief and integration with local transport investment and land use planning objectives, were strongly made at that seminar, and we shall be taking those views into account along with the written and other representations that we have received.

I recognise the importance of the A22 scheme from Dittons to Eastbourne town centre in terms of the relief it provides to the existing A22 and the access it affords to expanding commercial and industrial areas. However, we cannot allow a decision on the Polegate bypass to be driven by this alone. Should the bypass not go ahead, we would, of course, need to consider alternatives with the Highways Agency and local authorities.

The hon. Member for Eastbourne and other hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Mr. Foster), have also supported other schemes, which, together with the Polegate bypass, made up the Weald and Downland DBFO--design, build, finance and operate--project, considered this summer as

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part of the accelerated review. I take the opportunity to offer an assurance that the points that he and others made will be fully taken into account in the current review.

The hon. Member for Eastbourne mentioned some local concern at the announcement that the Polegate bypass scheme is one of eight case studies being analysed as part of a project to develop a new appraisal framework. The aim is to define a method capable of looking at all potential solutions to transport problems, and identifying options that best meet the objectives of integration, accessibility, safety, economy and environmental impacts. The purpose is to develop a new appraisal methodology rather than to study a specific case per se. The Polegate bypass is one of the eight because it was felt to be a good example of its type, and had already been studied in some depth.

Developing a forward-looking integrated transport policy that supports a strong economy, contributes to a sustainable environment and helps to create a just and inclusive society is, as I have said, a huge challenge.

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Through the work now under way on trunk roads, we want to achieve a robust short-term programme and a system for planning future investment in the road network--whether measures to make better use of the existing network or to provide new infrastructure--which is fair and seen to be fair, which allows a proper opportunity for all concerned to make their contribution, and which looks at transport problems squarely in the context of an integrated strategy.

Of the three questions that the hon. Member for Eastbourne posed, I trust that I have covered the last two. However, if he believes that I have failed to respond to some issues in detail, he should write to me, and I shall be happy to reply. As to compensation, all bids will be reviewed on their merits. The amounts to which he referred are mere speculation. We are examining such bids and, as I said, they will be reviewed on their merits.

Question put and agreed to.

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