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16 Jun 1998 : Column 269


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 18(1)(a) (Consideration of draft deregulation orders),

Methylated Spirits Sale (Scotland)

Question agreed to.



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    (a) any Question already proposed from the Chair;
    (b) any Question necessary to bring to a decision a Question so proposed;
    (c) the Question on any amendment moved or Motion made by a Minister of the Crown;
    (d) any other Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded.
    (2) Proceedings under sub-paragraph (1) shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to sittings of the House and may be decided, though opposed, at any hour.
    (3) On a Motion made for a new Clause or a new Schedule, the Speaker shall put only the Question that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill.
    (4) If two or more Questions would fall to be put under sub-paragraph (1)(c) on amendments moved or Motions made by a Minister of the Crown, the Speaker shall instead put a single question in relation to those amendments or Motions.


    5. If at any sitting a Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 24 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) stands over from an earlier day or to Seven o'clock--

    (a) the bringing to a conclusion of any proceedings on the Bill which under this Order are to be brought to a conclusion after that time shall be postponed for a period equal to the duration of the proceedings on the Motion, and
    (b) paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 15 (Exempted business) shall apply to proceedings on the Bill for the period after Ten o'clock for which sub-paragraph (a) permits them to continue.
    6. If a Motion is made by a Minister of the Crown to amend this Order and an effect of the Motion would be to provide a greater amount of time for proceedings on the Bill, the Question on the Motion shall be put forthwith and may be decided, though opposed, at any hour.
    7. If a Motion is made by a Minister of the Crown to supplement the provisions of this Order in respect of further proceedings on the Bill, the Motion may be proceeded with, though opposed, at any hour and the proceedings, if not previously concluded, shall be brought to a conclusion three-quarters of an hour after they have been commenced.--[Mr. Jamieson.]

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A27 (Sompting to Shoreham)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Jamieson.]

12.6 am

Mr. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham): As the mass exodus of hon. Members from the Chamber will demonstrate, the subject of safety of children on the stretch of the A27 between Shoreham and Sompting is not necessarily of universal interest--although the wider implications of road safety, especially for children, certainly are of interest to all hon. Members. In my constituency, for my constituents, the subject of road safety is literally a matter of life and death.

I am grateful to the Minister for Transport in London, who cannot attend this debate, as she has taken an active interest in the subject, and recently visited my constituency to investigate our problem at first hand. I am grateful also for the input provided by Lady Hayman. My sympathies perhaps go to the Minister for London and Construction for having to stand in for his colleague in this debate. I shall therefore not start my speech by saying, "The Minister is undoubtedly aware of the problems on that particular stretch of the A27." Moreover--for once in dealing with the A27--I shall not be majoring on the issue of the Worthing bypass, which, although it is a very large issue, is another matter entirely.

As the south coast corridor, the A27 intersects my constituency, dividing the downs from the sea. It is the main trunk road between Folkestone and Honiton, and takes a great deal of through freight. It has also become much busier since completion of the Southwick tunnel a couple of years ago, and traffic is increasing. The road divides the villages of Sompting and Lancing--which has the distinction of being the largest village in England.

The problem is that, right on the edge of the A27 is the Boundstone community college, which is the secondary school serving Sompting, Lancing and beyond. Frankly, it is a pretty bad place to site a major school such as this. The problem is that, on the eastern approach to the school, the road hits a blind bend. From the western approach, the school is situated just beneath the brow of a hill.

A child starting at Boundstone community college who lives in the north of Lancing or Sompting is likely to cross the road no fewer than 3,000 times in his school career, just to get to school and home again. The chances of any child having an accident are therefore quite high. Today, one can drive on motorway or fast, motorway-standard road virtually all the way from Newcastle to within just a mile of the school. Then, in the area immediately before the school, the speed limit becomes, officially, 40 mph. The problem is that that limit is not adhered to.

Over the past 11 or so years, there have been as many deaths on this stretch of road--an average of one fatality a year. In February 1997, Scott Purdie, a 13-year-old pupil of Boundstone community college, was killed on the pelican crossing outside the school while going to or from home for lunch. A few months later, a grown man from Lancing was knocked down and killed in broad daylight crossing the stretch of road just along from the school.

On 14 January this year, a public meeting was held at Boundstone community college. At that meeting, which I attended, we heard moving accounts from the mothers of two children who had been killed on that road, including

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the mother of Scott Purdie. That meeting was the culmination of much hard work and campaigning over many years by the school and the community.

In the community, many petitions have been completed, and parents have recently staged many demonstrations. Much hard work has been done by Adur council--especially by the council leader whose ward borders the school--by Sompting parish council, by Adur youth council, by the police and emergency services and by West Sussex county council. I must praise the county council for its excellent recent publication--the road casualty reduction plan--which contains some very interesting proposals.

As with most of the A27, the stretch of the road in question is now the responsibility of the Highways Agency. There is a feeling in my constituency that the Highways Agency is a rather remote body, as the office that has responsibility for this stretch of the road is in Dorking. To give the agency its due, a representative turned up at the public meeting, but since then the agency has, alas, declined my invitations to make a site visit, despite the promise of a meeting by one of the Ministers who has taken an interest.

The agency has instituted several minor measures, such as improving some of the road markings and providing a few extra school signs, but as I drove past the school this weekend, I noticed that some of the new signs are obscured by bushes that overhang the road. A little work has also been done on the crash barriers along the road.

Within weeks of the public meeting in January, a 12-year-old girl was knocked down near the pelican crossing and taken to hospital. Fortunately, she was not that seriously hurt, and she survived. Still, the road is an accident waiting to happen. Statistically, I fear that we are now due for another serious accident.

In Sussex, we like to think that we are untypical, a cut above other shire counties. Alas, the traffic accident figures in our county are not untypical. In 1997, there were more than 600 casualties in the county, an increase of 5 per cent. over the previous year despite the increased congestion on our roads. Of that 600, 360 were pedestrian casualties, including 101 people who were killed or seriously injured. Some 34 per cent. of those cases involved children under the age of 16, and 89 per cent. of pedestrian accidents were on roads where the speed limit was 40 mph or less. A third of the fatalities occurred on bends, and 22 per cent. of the accidents involved cars being driven at excessive speed for the prevailing conditions.

The figures have remained fairly constant for some years. It is difficult to understand how the traffic accident levels will reach the Government's target in 2000, which is based on the average for 1981-85, particularly given that road activity in the county over the past 16 years has increased by 54 per cent. All the dangerous elements that I have mentioned are pertinent to that stretch of the A27, combining to make it one of the most dangerous accident black spots in the county, if not the country.

What can be done? The Highways Agency has just tinkered and talked about safety surveys. We urgently need substantive action. Suggestions made at the public meeting included an overhead walkway or an underpass. Those are well-intentioned ideas, but they will take a lot of time and money, and there will be problems with siting

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them and in deciding what land should be used. Moreover, children cannot be forced to use an underpass or overhead walkway.

I have mentioned road markings, anti-skid surfaces and crash barriers, but they are not enough. There is also the possibility of moving the traffic lights, but that would make it even less likely that the children would use them.

The key is education of the children. I welcome the work of the local education authority and the health authority on that. However, I favour the easy and quick option of accident black spot signs, which should be alarming and striking. We could have flashing signs, such as those used in France, which have been tested in the west country. We need more advanced signs that are not obscured by bushes. We could also change the timing on the traffic lights to make them respond more quickly, provided that they do not constantly stop the traffic.

The most important proposal that I should like the Minister to take up is speed cameras. We have just one red-light-jumping camera, which rarely operates. I am not calling for a change in the speed limit on this important stretch of trunk road. I want motorists to abide by the 40 mph limit. Speed cameras are the most effective way to induce drivers to slow down. In surveys, 80 per cent. of drivers freely admit to speeding. The public rank it as a minor indiscretion, just above illegal parking offences. Research shows that speed cameras can cut accidents by up to 70 per cent. The trouble is that four out of five are switched off or empty of working film. It is essential that they should work and be seen to work.

Only one in 10 people photographed by the cameras are prosecuted. The 750,000 fixed-penalty tickets issued have raised £30 million, but the cameras cost between £9,000 and £16,000 a year to maintain. I welcome the Government's proposals to reinvest some of the revenue to install new cameras and maintain the existing ones properly. The hypothecation of motoring revenue for safety and environmental improvement, flagged by the Deputy Prime Minister, is also welcome. Only six new cameras were installed in West Sussex last year. Tests by the Sussex police show that computerised cameras that read number plates automatically can work. We have the necessary infrastructure and expertise.

I have made some practical and affordable proposals that could be instituted quickly and with minimal upheaval. I urge the Minister to ask the Highways Agency to institute such substantive measures.

I cannot leave the subject without mentioning the Worthing bypass, which remains the highest priority for my constituency, particularly Lancing, Sompting and north Worthing, which is rapidly becoming a pilot scheme for integrated gridlock. I am pleased that discussions between the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and the Government office for the south-east continue to identify the A27 Worthing bypass as a high priority.

I urge the Minister urgently to progress the scheme. I hope that we shall hear good news in the trunk road review later in the year. Although the bypass would certainly ease the amount of traffic using the A27 between Sompting and Shoreham, it would not necessarily solve the problem, because the traffic that remained would be induced to travel even faster. Even if the bypass is built, as I certainly hope, safety measures on the A27 would have to accompany it.

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The Shoreham flyover is a mile or so down the road from the Sompting-to-Shoreham stretch. The A27 throughout my constituency is littered with accident black spots. The Shoreham flyover has been the subject of 12 personal injury accidents over the past few years. The number of accidents over the past three years has been increasing. They typically occur after dark, and at about the same spot: on the Shoreham slip road. Due to problems of light pollution of guidance systems at nearby Shoreham airport, the area of road is poorly lit. More discreet lighting, such as light guidance tubes, or more reflective chevrons could be used to improve the safety of the hazardous zone.

There was a most horrific accident in the new year on that very stretch of road. A young firewoman, Sarah Cotton, went to rescue two passengers who were trapped in a car that had crashed. The barrier had been smashed away, and the firewoman fell 34 ft on to hard ground below the flyover. She is remarkably lucky to be alive; she has only recently come out of hospital. She will need much treatment over many years to come, and her career in the fire service is obviously severely in doubt.

Alas, the Highways Agency has appeared reluctant to do anything about the black spot. Despite my constant letters and requests, it sees no reason to replace any of the 20-year-old barriers, which have been regularly weakened by crashes. Nor does it see a reason for improving the lighting, even just of the signs, or on the slip road, which I believe is the real cause of problem. That belief is certainly shared by members of the emergency services, who so tragically saw the problems at first hand.

It has been calculated that a fatal accident costs £800,000. A serious injury accident on the roads costs £90,000. The cost to the community--personally and psychologically to the families, schools and classmates of the victims I have mentioned--is immeasurable. For the cost of one fatality, we could install serious safety measures that might just defy the law of statistics and prevent another fatality or serious injury for many years to come. I therefore urge the Minister to press the Highways Agency to revisit the problem, and to come up with more substantial solutions as a matter of urgency.

The clock is ticking until the next inevitable tragic accident. The clock is ticking louder and louder the longer we leave it. I do not want to attend another public meeting next year and hear the tragic testimony of another parent whose child has been snatched from her by a needless accident at an accident black spot about which we all knew, which any responsible person could have seen coming. Accidents happen; accidents waiting to happen, as is so in this case, can and should be prevented. I therefore urge the Minister to facilitate some serious proposals in order to help my constituents.

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