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Road Building

8. Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove): If he will make a statement on which road-building proposals are being considered by his Department. [28442]

The Minister for Transport (Mr. John Spellar): A number of road-building proposals are being appraised within multimodal and road-based studies set up as a consequence of the 1998 roads review. Decisions on those studies will be announced as they are made. In addition, local authorities recently submitted road proposals for funding by central Government as part of their local transport plans. The latest local transport settlement was announced on 13 December.

Mr. Stunell: May I draw the Minister's attention to the outstanding decisions that are awaited on the south-east Manchester multimodal study and tell him that my constituents are desperately keen to hear the Government's decision? Can he give me a date or a

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timetable for that decision, so that I can put my constituents' minds at rest about the fact that the Government are serious about investing in multimodal studies?

Mr. Spellar: I cannot give an exact date, but I am aware of the concern that the outcomes of the multimodal studies should be implemented as soon as possible, not least because although there has, quite properly, been an in-depth evaluation, the problems exist now. However, I anticipate that a local Liberal Democrat councillor will put out a focus leaflet opposing the road, and then we will be told that local Liberal groups make decisions based on local circumstances. If the hon. Gentleman assures me that that will not be the case, I will look on the matter even more favourably.

Dr. Jack Cunningham (Copeland): Will my right hon. Friend look thoroughly at proposals currently affecting the A595 trunk road, the only trunk road serving Copeland and many hundreds of square miles of west and south-west Cumbria? Will he ask the Highways Agency to expedite the announcement, made by his predecessor last year, that the Parton to Lilly Hall improvement would go ahead? Will he also ask the agency to desist from proposing to de-trunk the rest of that sole trunk road in west and south-west Cumbria, particularly as to do so would be to negate the many excellent initiatives taken in his Department and others, including those on market towns, on the diversification of rural economies and on the development of tourism? Is not it nonsensical and unacceptable that an executive agency should be taking decisions that negate ministerial decisions and Government objectives?

Mr. Spellar: I am sure that my right hon. Friend is well aware that local authorities in the area hold differing opinions, not on extra investment, but on de-trunking and on the right route down which to proceed. That matter needs to be resolved by discussion, perhaps in the first instance with the Highways Agency. However, I am certainly prepared to receive representations from my right hon. Friend and his constituents to enable us to make the right decision in this case.

Mr. Archie Norman (Tunbridge Wells): May I draw the Minister's attention to the appalling state of the A21 arterial route to Hastings, a relatively deprived area? I remind him that this Government cancelled the Weald and Downlands design, build, finance and operate project in 1997, and since then we have had review after review—I think that this Government have review disease when it comes to road building—but no action. The record of fatalities and the increasing congestion on the road are simply appalling.

Last July, the Secretary of State committed himself to two further reviews, of Castle Hill and the route south of Pembury. We have not heard a dicky-bird since then. Can the Minister now tell the House when those reviews are expected to report, whether the reports will be published and when we can expect to see some action?

Mr. Spellar: The hon. Gentleman made great play of this Government's behaviour; I do not recall his lot doing much on the A21 in the previous 18 years. However, he is right to draw attention to that road; I acknowledge that

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he was gracious enough to say that when we looked at the area, although we did not go ahead with the Hastings bypass, we agreed to undertake further studies of the A21 because there are fairly strong opinions on the subject, as he is aware. On the one hand, there is a considerable environmental lobby, which is concerned about areas of natural beauty and the landscape; on the other, there is a real need, which I appreciate and understand, to improve access to Hastings and the surrounding area, as well as the safety of that road. That is why we ordered further studies; I shall write to the hon. Gentleman with details of the exact timetable.

Mr. Ivan Henderson (Harwich): I welcome the £0.5 million investment in Jaywick Sands, in my constituency. A major road reconstruction has just begun at Jaywick, which the Government introduced under the local transport plan. Will the Minister take a special interest in the future of Jaywick? Many other roads need to be reconstructed; some streets still have no street lighting, proper drainage or footpaths. Is my right hon. Friend aware that if the Opposition had had their way and been elected, they would have reversed the Government's policy on local transport—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Mr. Spellar.

Mr. Spellar: The previous environment spokesman indicated clearly that the Conservatives wanted to move away from local transport plans, the benefits of which my hon. Friend has rightly identified in many areas, not least his own. I shall certainly take account of his representations; I hope that he will follow them up with a letter to me on the details of the subsequent proposals so that we can give them further sympathetic consideration.

Mr. Speaker: Don Foster.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath) rose[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mr. Foster: I should be grateful, whichever Minister is going to reply, for confirmation that there is a significant difference between the strategic plan of the Strategic Rail Authority and the 10-year plan. The strategic plan suggests that there is a—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Perhaps I should apologise to the hon. Gentleman; I called him a bit too soon.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): It is said in press reports that Ove Arup has now worked out what needs to be done to the M6 as part of the multimodal study of routes from the west midlands to the north-west. With all that information going to the Minister, can he tell me once and for all when the study will be produced so that those of us in the north-west who occasionally try to get through Birmingham on the M6 may do so with greater certainty that we will reach our destination?

Mr. Spellar: The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that as a result of the Government's authorising the Birmingham north relief road—soon to be the M6 toll road—he will have an alternative route for getting round that blockage; I hope that he is suitably grateful when he

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uses it in future. He is right to draw attention to significant interest in the west midlands multimodal study and the midlands/Manchester study, which both look at road and rail access. As he knows, those studies have already reached initial publication; we then consulted the appropriate regional bodies. As I said in an earlier response, I accept that the public have been waiting a considerable time for the final reports. We need early decisions; then we must award contracts to deal with the considerable congestion experienced not only by the right hon. Gentleman, but by midlands and north-west industry. That is an important consideration, which is why we shall take action.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): In 1996, after four years of protest and the blighting of many homes, a proposed outlying route to ease congestion on the Gateshead western bypass was abandoned. Is the Minister aware that residents whose homes had been purchased by the Highways Agency in preparation for the building of that road were offered the chance to repurchase? They were given a written assurance that they could do so safe in the knowledge that the road proposal would not be revived. Can my right hon. Friend explain why that proposal is back on the agenda and why those who accepted the Department's word back in 1996 are having their lives blighted all over again?

Mr. Spellar: My hon. Friend has to accept that, given that those studies are independent and will put options to us, it would be slightly odd if we pre-determined all outcomes before the work had been undertaken. I am however fully aware of the controversy that arose in the Newcastle area when the western bypass was last proposed. I am aware of other proposals for work in that area to deal with what is widely recognised as a bottleneck on the A1 around Newcastle, and with considerable local traffic too. I undertake to give my hon. Friend's points consideration. I hope that he will also write to me on behalf of his constituents, outlining the concerns, so that that can be taken into account when we are evaluating the multimodal study with a view to taking action.

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