Examination of Witnesses (Questions 460
WEDNESDAY 24 JANUARY 2001
MR T MATTHEWS
460. Have you changed the way you operate?
(Mr Matthews) We have certainly changed the way we
operate and now all our managers, all our offices in the regions
have very clear targets, whether in terms of the way they deliver
schemes, the way in which we require them to consult environmental
and other groups, or indeed our own technical expertise within
the Agency, where we have developed clear environmental skills
in a number of areas.
461. You now feel able to monitor results as
well. Is that what you are saying? Now you have the expertise
in-house, as well as giving instructions to people carrying out
the tasks out in the country?
(Mr Matthews) Yes. Part of our role in the environmental
work is to contribute advice to local authorities, whether that
is to do with air pollution control or the impact of economic
developments on wider environmental concerns. Part of our role
is actually monitoring what we do ourselves, but it is also contributing
to the local authorities' own responsibilities in this area. The
other important area which the White Paper gave rise to, was the
new approach to appraisal of major schemes. That again for the
first time built systematic environmental appraisal and environmental
impact studies into the way in which we and the Department of
the Environment, Transport and the Regions look at new road schemes,
major road schemes, junction improvements and such like. The environmental
assessment of new schemes as opposed to the working of the existing
network is now very much systematically part of our approach.
462. Is there now a very clear difference? Are
you saying that happens right at the beginning of an assessment?
(Mr Matthews) Yes; very much so, right from the inception
of the scheme, whether that is through the initial informal consultation
with environmental groups or the way in which we begin to talk
to the consultants who are developing the design ideas for the
scheme. Obviously the different type of environmental impact differs
according to the different schemes. Yes, that thinking is now
built in right from the start and is formally part of the published
assessments which we have now to give as part of any scheme which
463. Who monitors how well you are doing that
job within the Department?
(Mr Matthews) We are subject as an agency to formal
464. No, I know what you are subject to. You
have just told me that this is a change in the way you operate,
you are doing it from the beginning, you have also told us that
you brought people in which did not happen before. All I am asking
is: who monitors how you do it?
(Mr Matthews) We are monitored on all of our targets
by the Department of the Environment.
465. Having regard to the fact that some of
these schemes from advice, to planning, could be eight or ten
years ago and in view of the fact that the Government are now
improving the standards which were set eight or ten years ago,
how often do you update the information on new road works or bypasses?
(Mr Matthews) In terms of environmental impact, we
would not do that systematically. What we do as part of scheme
development is assess environmental impact as part of our ongoing
targets for environment. They would be the ones which would generally
pick up any environmental issues on the existing network.
466. Who decides which schemes should be looked
at, in view of the fact that you are saying you do not do them
generally but you pick out some of the impacts. Who chooses?
(Mr Matthews) We have targets in relation to proportions
of the network which means that environmental assessments will
cover all of the network within a given period of two to three
467. May I go back to your first point? You
were saying that when you are contemplating a scheme, a bypass,
you research it, you accept advice and you collect information
and that could be eight or ten years ago. What I am saying is
that if you are going to start the scheme now, within the next
12 months or two years, what about updating the impact assessment
of that new road on the environment of communities and local areas?
Do you update it?
(Mr Matthews) If the formal environmental impact assessment
had been done as part of the statutory consultation, inquiry process,
we would not formally update that.
468. But they were not automatically built in.
I think the point Mr O'Brien was making was a simple one. If you
have a long programme and the work was done some time ago, do
you look again at what work was done and if needs be update it
in light of your new environmental targets?
(Mr Matthews) We would only update it if there had
been a significant change in the nature of the scheme.
469. May I put the point to you that in the
past three years local authorities have now been charged with
monitoring environment levels along motorways in their area? If
it applies to local government, why does it not apply to the Agency?
(Mr Matthews) We do that as part of our ongoing targets.
470. That is when the road is built. I am talking
about doing it before the road is built.
(Mr Matthews) Yes and that we do as part of the assessment
of the scheme before it is built.
471. What about updating it? What I am saying
is that changes have been made over the past decade on environment
issues, standards have risen, if you are planning a motorway on
something which was agreed ten years ago then you are out of date.
(Mr Matthews) If there are specific changes in requirements,
such as we now have a new policy direction in terms of road surface
noise, then if this was before we got to the stage of letting
a contract, yes, we would build that in as a new requirement.
We do not have any process formally to go back and review all
of the environmental impact unless there have been particular
changes either in policy or in the nature of the scheme which
would suggest we need to do that.
472. I want to go back to basics for a moment.
Where do Highways Agency schemes come from? Who thinks of them?
(Mr Matthews) They come from a variety of sources,
but predominantly they come from a local assessment of need for
changes, whether that is changes in the layout of the existing
network or expansion of the network to meet particular requirements
for the congestion.
473. Who does that local assessment?
(Mr Matthews) Now the local assessment for main new
schemes is being handled by the new regional planning bodies.
We provide expert and technical support to them and that is a
process which in terms of government is managed by the government
offices in the regions.
474. This is an analysis which is completely
separate from the analysis performed by, say, local authorities
when they come up with their proposals for improving roads which
get discussed locally and there is a certain amount of transparency
to it and they produce their local transport plans and Government
considers which ones to fund. That is a completely separate process
from the consideration being given to Highways Agency schemes.
(Mr Matthews) It is not an entirely separate process,
no. The people who are participants in the regional planning bodies
are by and large derived from local authorities; they obviously
include other people as well. Part of the reason for the regional
planning bodies taking a more central role is that they have an
ability to look at both the impact and needs of the national road
network and the local road network together as part of an integrated
look at transport and other local infrastructure issues. There
are separate lines of account and chains of command there in terms
of who is responsible for maintaining and delivering those different
475. But the local transport plans published
by the various councils might have no mention in them of a road
scheme which the regional planning bodies are proposing for the
Highways Agency to carry out.
(Mr Matthews) We would expect, and I am sure the Department
of the Environment would expect, for all schemes that have an
impact on the local network, on the major trunkroad network, for
that impact to be assessed and routinely we are consulted, we
discuss as part of our routine business with local authorities
and counties our respective developments. In the same way we would
be expected and do consult and negotiate with local authorities
about plans which are there for major trunkroad or motorway development.
476. My constituency is in Kent and Kent County
Council delivered me a nice copy of the local transport plan and
I sit in my study and open it up and read about all their plans
for roads in Kent. It is quite possible that a Highways Agency
scheme going right the way through the middle of Kent would not
be included in the local transport plan because it is not part
of the local transport plan.
(Mr Matthews) That is right. It would be taken into
account by the regional planning body in making their own assessments
of what the right balance of transport should be between the major
national network and the local transport plan. Those are things
which the DETR will take into account in reviewing the local transport
plans. The local transport plans relate exclusively to the local
network because that is what the councils are responsible for.
477. The average driver does not go along thinking
they are making a local journey today so they must not go on any
Highways Agency roads. They usually pick the best route from A
to B and plan their journey accordingly.
(Mr Matthews) We would not wish to manage or plan
our roads in a way which created that distinction or difficulty
in the public's mind, which is why we work very closely at a local
level and consult very closely with the local authorities.
478. Would you not agree it makes a nonsense
of trying to build an integrated transport strategy if there are
two such clearly diverse processes going on to plan roads? I hear
what you are saying about trying to liaise between the two but
would it not be more sensible that somebody was responsible for
producing a plan which included all proposed road projects in
(Mr Matthews) That is the purpose and function of
the regional planning bodies, at least to try to make sure that
those are properly integrated. Without straying into areas of
policy which are not my remit, balancing the kinds of priorities
and perspective that a county has to have in terms of its local
network and the development of a national strategic network is
something that does have to be managed, it cannot be done entirely
locally in my view, nor would it be sensible for the Highways
Agency sitting in Southwark Street to plan every minor road in
Kent or Devon.
479. On the basis of what you have just said,
you are virtually talking yourself out of a job.
(Mr Matthews) I do not think I am; at least I hope
I am not.