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Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): May I return the Deputy Prime Minister's focus to rural transport? He set up the Commission for Integrated Transport in July last year; why did not he insist that it held at least one meeting to discuss rural transport? That would have led to positive input in the 10-year transport plan.
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, figures for road safety in North Yorkshire are the worst in the country, not because of the drivers who live there but because of the high proportion of transit traffic on those roads. I make a plea to the Deputy Prime Minister to recognise the rurality and sparsity factors and the additional miles of road that are covered by transit traffic in North Yorkshire.
I appreciate that the details may be in the document, but the Deputy Prime Minister said nothing about detrunking roads. If he is to proceed with his strategy of detrunking rural roads in North Yorkshire in particular, will he give the House a commitment today to give local authorities, in this case North Yorkshire county council, additional funds to maintain roads at a higher standard than currently applies?
Mr. Prescott: The House is aware that the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) has many interests in rural areas. I well understand that, knowing the beautiful part of the country that she represents. She will know that our increase in bus services in rural areas has benefited many parts of North Yorkshire. There was an initial difficulty when the North Yorkshire local authority refused the £1 million that was available to it. The local authority claimed that it did not know how to use it. It has subsequently found ways of doing that. It was a Tory local authority, and I do not understand why it found it difficult to provide good transport services for the people of North Yorkshire. However, I shall continue to make the case.
The roads and the priorities for the areas that we are discussing are under consideration in multi-modal studies and the regional reports. I expect to receive the reports in the autumn and the spring, and I hope to make statements about them later.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Does my right hon. Friend recall that we had serious discussions about improving the infrastructure in the old coalfield areas, where as many as 2,000 people would have been working down a hole in the ground? To provide a lot of work on the pit top, we needed to ensure that the infrastructure was correct. He might also recall the discussions and decisions regarding proposed junction 29A of the M1, which could provide about 9,000 jobs for three adjoining constituencies in north Derbyshire, where there is not a single pit left after the Tories got rid of them all. Can he give me an assurance that the Government still have that idea on board and that it will be pursued in the 10-year plan?
Mr. Prescott: Yes, I well remember junction 29A, which was greatly discussed in the coalfield communities. We have changed the regional planning guidance for those matters to take fully into account the difficulties that our coal communities experienced after the massive pit closures and the matter is still very much on board. We are reviewing the programmes and I hope to give an answer by the end of this year or the beginning of next.
Mr. Prescott: The sum is £30 billion, which is the highest ever given to road maintenance--considerably higher than when the hon. Gentleman was a Transport Minister. He presided over a transport policy that led to the mess that we are trying correct.
Mr. Prescott: My hon. Friend will know from his constituency that there is considerable call for investment, whether in road or in rail, to meet economic demand. His constituency is in an area of important economic development and we are looking closely at the infrastructure. Roads certainly have a part to play in assisting with the process, as does the new channel tunnel rail link. Our road review document, which we announced to the House about a year ago, made the criteria clear--not only economic factors, but environmental, safety and congestion issues have to be addressed. Those are being considered and we hope to make a statement on the regional reports at the beginning of next year.
Sir David Madel (South-West Bedfordshire): The chief executives of the Highways Agency and of the Government office of the east of England have both visited Dunstable to see the huge congestion there. Does the Dunstable bypass feature in the 100 bypasses that the right hon. Gentleman has announced? There is £60 billion for the railways. Will part of it be used to reopen the disused railway line between Dunstable and Luton? If so, that will also be welcomed in the town.
Mr. Prescott: I can well recall individual Members spending a lot of time asking about particular roads during my 30 years as a Member of the House. [Interruption.] I am saying that I am trying to take regional and local factors into account. Local transport plans are given to us each year and a five-year plan will be announced after full representations have been taken by December. Those plans will make recommendations for bypasses and roads and I shall consider them. Of course bypasses can play a part on some strategic routes in both rural and urban areas and I shall take representations from the strategic regional review bodies and the development agencies. All that will enable us to identify those roads over the next six months. The 40-odd roads in the preferred programme that I announced to the House are under way.
Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement and the work that he does to try to improve this country's transport system. He referred to pedestrians and walkers. Sadly, the Opposition spokesman did not. May I impress on my right hon. Friend the importance of catering for pedestrians in town and city centres? Will he give an assurance that pedestrianisation schemes will be retained, maintained and extended wherever possible? Will he give a further assurance that he will listen carefully to meaningful consultation on his waterways document and develop still further the canal and waterways system throughout the United Kingdom?
Mr. Prescott: Yes, I can assure my hon. Friend that in the transport plans we are encouraging local authorities to undertake more and more pedestrianisation. There is no doubt about pedestrianisation any more although a few years ago a lot of hon. Members protested that it would be bad for business. Most now feel that pedestrianisation
Having watched the development of waterways-- I come from a part of the country where there are many--I am pleased that a week or so ago we announced a change in policy, which allows waterways to become part of the urban environment rather than leaving them to waste away. They should not be a liability on the taxpayer, requiring more and more taxpayers' money. In regenerating our urban areas, public and private partnerships have used waterways to open up many of our cities.
The waterways in Birmingham, Leeds and other cities used to be shunned. They were in parts of the city where nobody wanted to go, but they are now at the heart of urban redevelopment and contribute considerably to the quality of life there. It is noticeable that more people are returning to live in cities where that kind of facility has been turned from a liability to an asset. That is another major change that we have made in transport policy.
Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle): The Deputy Prime Minister will be aware that the previous Government gave a starting date for the completion of the Manchester airport eastern link road, which would have helpfully linked the airport after which it is named. It also gave a starting date for the Poynton bypass to the east. The Deputy Prime Minister came along and cancelled both schemes, which are now subject to a multi-modal study in which we must rehearse the arguments of 20 years of public inquiries on those schemes. Will road schemes subject to such multi-modal studies remain in that position or will they now have some chance of being given the importance that the previous Government gave them?
Mr. Prescott: We decided to finish with the wish list that seemed to dominate an awful lot of discussions in this House, and we chose our priorities and the criteria according to which they would be judged. I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are completing the Manchester motorway box--it will be finished by the autumn, I think--and the inner link road, bearing in mind the Commonwealth games that will take place in Manchester. We are also investing £500 million in the light rail system.