Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 499 - 519)



  Chairman: Before we start, would members of the Committee declare their interests please?

  (Mr Stevenson): Member of the Transport and General Workers' Union.

  Chairman: Member of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Trade Union.
  (Mrs Ellman): Member of the Transport and General Workers' Union.
  (Miss McIntosh): Interests in BA, BAA, Eurotunnel, Railtrack, First Group and the RSM.


  499. Gentlemen, thank you for coming to see us this afternoon. Will you identify yourselves for the record?
  (Mr Matthews) Tim Matthews, Chief Executive, Highways Agency.
  (Mr York) David York, Operations Director, Highways Agency.

  500. Thank you very much. Could I ask you if you have something you would like to say to us first, Mr Matthews?
  (Mr Matthews) No, thank you, Chairman.

  501. Why do roads expect to attract such a small contribution from the private sector compared to rail?
  (Mr Matthews) I do not know that the comparison is one that I am particularly concerned with. The decision that we should have a target of something of the order of 25 per cent private investments on major schemes—

  502. Perhaps I could help you. The source is the 10 Year Plan. It is in table A3, page 99. It points out that public investment expenditure for strategic roads is £13.6 billion, public investment expenditure for rail is £14.7 billion. Then we come to private investment for roads, £2.6 billion; private investment for rail, £34.3 billion. You do not find those figures fairly interesting?
  (Mr Matthews) What I find interesting and compelling is the figure of 25 per cent for the road network which was the view taken at the time about what was feasible and deliverable as far as the strategic road network was concerned.

  503. Do you interpret this as being that there is a much higher political commitment to roads and to road schemes and that you cannot get private money into roads without road pricing?
  (Mr Matthews) No, I do not make that interpretation. The interpretation I made was that it was a measured judgement about the level of private finance and the number of schemes that would be started during the 10 year period on the roads. I do not particularly draw any conclusion—

  504. So is there a case for trunk road pricing, because then you would have the funds to reimburse private investors, would you not?
  (Mr Matthews) That is not a judgement for the Agency to make. The targets we have been set are not predicated on any motorway or inter-urban road charging.

  505. Then let me ask you are you in favour of trunk road pricing?
  (Mr Matthews) Personally I think it would certainly contribute towards congestion.

  506. It would contribute towards congestion? I do not think you mean that quite.
  (Mr Matthews) Sorry; it would contribute towards the target of reducing congestion. That is if you look at it as a rather abstract economic model. I think there are much wider policy and social implications about introducing charging which it is not really the Agency's remit to have a view on.

  507. So you have not for any reason advised Her Majesty's Government that you would think this was a sensible policy to follow?
  (Mr Matthews) No.

Mr Stevenson

  508. Could I ask about the targets set in the 10 Year Plan? I am particularly interested in your 10 Year National Road Strategy which is a very interesting document. Perhaps I can pick one or two questions out of this. The first is for clarification. In the congestion section it talks about reduction of congestion on inter-urban trunk roads to five per cent below current levels. Of course the target set in the Plan is six per cent. Could you clarify that?
  (Mr Matthews) The target of six per cent was across all roads as I understand it. The target for the inter-urban network was five per cent.

  509. Is that five per cent five-sixths of the six per cent, leaving one per cent to be found elsewhere?
  (Mr Matthews) No. It is five per cent reduction in the congestion experienced on the motorways and inter-urban roads.

  510. As part of that?
  (Mr Matthews) So there will be a slightly different figure.

  511. The 10 Year Plan, again referring to the section dealing with congestion—and I would like to ask you a couple of questions to get some handle on how progress has been made—you say that by 2002 you intend to complete 51 early action schemes in your 10 Year Plan. Has that been done or is it being done?
  (Mr Matthews) It will be done within the year 2002/2003, yes.

  512. My second question, again to get some feeling on progress, is that you say that by 2005 you intend to start all 21 major schemes in the target programme of improvements. Is that on course?
  (Mr Matthews) That section refers to the 21 that were deliberately aimed at achieving reductions in congestion, and yes, we are.

  Mr Stevenson: Could I, Mrs Dunwoody, turn to the section dealing with having a careful balance on page 21?

  Chairman: The Highways Agency Strategic Roads Report 2010, page 21.


  513. Again a couple of questions to, I hope, make the point. This deals with partnership in many ways. Again, in 2002 improved processes to reduce to five to seven years the time for new schemes with no reduction in consultation. Is that going to happen this year?
  (Mr Matthews) Yes, and in November last year we published a new document called Our Strategy for Procurement which set out on a variety of fronts how we intended to improve the way in which we procure major road schemes and also how we intend along the way to improve the process of consultation so that they are hopefully less confrontational processes than they might have been in the past.

  514. Does that include the planning process?
  (Mr Matthews) That does not presume any changes to the current legislative framework for the planning process.

  515. So the Government's consultation document on major infrastructure schemes you have not taken into account when you talk about reducing to between five and seven years this process?
  (Mr Matthews) That is right, because the assumption is that other than for very large new road schemes for which there is no current provision in the Plan those new provisions would not impact on the Highways Agency schemes.

  516. There is no provision in the Plan for new schemes?
  (Mr Matthews) There is no provision for major new roads. The provision in the Plan is for a combination of widening of existing roads, bypasses and major junction improvements.

  517. My last question concerns the commitment to develop and operate partnerships, financial initiatives with the private sector, so that the target, as you have explained to us, of 25 per cent funding for current and new major schemes is achieved. At the moment you do not achieve that. That is a target, is it not, the 25 per cent, and yet you talk about "current schemes". Could you clarify that for us please?
  (Mr Matthews) The target is to achieve that over a 10 year period and there are current schemes already either in work or in negotiation which will contribute to that 25 per cent.

  518. Birmingham North Relief?
  (Mr Matthews) Birmingham North Relief Road being an example.

  519. And how much of the 25 per cent was accounted for by the Birmingham Northern Relief Road?
  (Mr Matthews) One of the problems with answering that question is because we do not pay a capital sum then the actual capital cost of the road will be a commercial matter for the supplier. But our estimate is that it is of the order of £400 to half a billion, so it will be that sort of order.

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