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7 Jan 2003 : Column 148—continued

11.13 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet (Colin Burgon) not only on securing this debate, but on his clear and studied approach to his subject. Since he was elected to the House he has proved to be a relentless and powerful advocate for his constituents, particularly, if I may say so, on transport matters.

As my hon. Friend has said, the M1 and the A1 in his constituency to the east of Leeds are vital links in the strategic highway network. Together with the connections to the north along the A1 and to the south along the A1, M1 and M62, they form the key north-south routes between Scotland and the north-east of England and the rest of the country. At a regional level they represent an important artery providing access between the more rural parts of North Yorkshire and the major towns and cities of west and South Yorkshire. At a local level they perform an essential function in keeping long-distance, strategic traffic away from market towns such as Wetherby and neighbouring villages, and hence minimising environmental impacts.

The volume of traffic using those roads demonstrates their importance. For example, the A1 south of Wetherby is currently used by about 74,000 vehicles a day, and the A1(M) south of Bramham is used by more than 100,000 vehicles a day. We face a major challenge in maintaining the quality of service provided by those key routes in the face of steadily rising volumes of traffic. That is a reflection of economic growth—one of the problems of economic success resulting from our careful and prudent management of the economy is extra traffic wanting to use the roads. However, the Government are committed to an unprecedented programme of investment to upgrade the A1 in Yorkshire to a motorway, which will ensure that that route continues to function effectively in meeting national, regional and local needs. That is essential if we are to support continued growth of the economy and, at the same time, ensure that the impacts on local communities of traffic growth are minimised, as my hon. Friend poignantly pointed out.

Plans to upgrade the A1 form one element in the Government's broader integrated transport strategy, which aims to deliver significant improvements across all modes, including road and rail. I shall put our national approach to road improvements in context, then move on to the specific points made by my hon. Friend. The 10-year plan published in April 2001 set out

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an ambitious programme of investment amounting to #180 billion across the decade to 2010–11. The progress report on the 10-year plan published in December last year showed that a good start had been made in the first 18 months, but much more remains to be done. We are committed to reviewing the 10-year plan in 2004 to coincide with the next public expenditure review, and will take account of the progress made so far and the challenges that have to be met in the period to 2015 and beyond.

Such long-term commitment and planning are essential if we are to rebuild and maintain the transport infrastructure that we need for continued growth and prosperity. There are no quick fixes or easy solutions. The 10-year plan made provision for sustained investment year on year, but that will take time. Our approach to tackling congestion and improving safety on the strategic road network is a balanced one. Improving both the capacity and the management of the network plays an important part, particularly in the near term—we must deal with the immediate problems on key corridors and pinch points—but so too do measures to address the growth in demand for road travel and the provision of better alternatives.

In the case of the A1, since the 10-year plan was published, we have made good progress on upgrading the A1 to a motorway throughout much of its length in Yorkshire, as I am sure my hon. Friend is aware. The existing schemes in the targeted programme of improvements have been taken forward and further schemes were added in June 2002. In addition, the South and West Yorkshire multi-modal study has recently reported and recommended upgrading the A1 to a dual three-lane motorway between Darrington and the M18. The Government will consider the study's recommendations together with the views of the Yorkshire and Humber Assembly and other regional stakeholders before making an announcement, I hope, in the spring.

My hon. Friend asked a number of specific questions in our debate, which it would be appropriate to address in the order in which he asked them. I am pleased that he recognises the benefits of the M1 scheme and the use of private finance. I know that the use of concrete carriageways has resulted in noise levels higher than those originally predicted. My hon. Friend will be aware that one section of the route was identified as needing sensitive treatment close to Garforth, and was resurfaced shortly after opening. On the general subject of concrete roads, in October 2001 I announced the first list of concrete roads to be resurfaced as part of the 10-year plan. At the same time, I commissioned studies of 17 routes to establish the actual noise levels against those predicted. Once I have the results of those studies, I can further consider the programme for resurfacing. I hope to make an announcement on that in the next few months.

Turning to the A1 schemes in the targeted programme, the next two sections of the A1 to be upgraded to motorway will be those from Wetherby to Walshford and from Ferrybridge to Hook Moor. Those schemes are to be taken forward as part of the A1 Darrington to Dishforth design, build, finance and operate project—DBFO—to which my hon. Friend referred. The total cost of that project is #250 million. The project also includes the operation and

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maintenance of the A1 between Darrington and Dishforth. It is hoped to award this major private finance initiative project before the end of this month, with construction of these schemes programmed to start in spring 2003 for completion by 2006. Advance works costing #27 million have already been completed.

The A1 Wetherby to Walshford scheme will provide a new dual three-lane motorway between Walton road east of Wetherby and the existing A1 motorway at Walshford. A new grade separated junction, known as the Kirk Deighton new junction, will be constructed to provide an improved connection between the new A1 motorway and the local road network.

The Darrington to Dishforth DBFO project also incorporates a scheme to upgrade the A1 to a dual three-lane motorway between Ferrybridge and Hook Moor. The scheme will reduce congestion, improve road safety and improve the environment by removing through traffic from local communities, with major new junctions at the A63 and M62. In June 2002, three further A1 schemes were added to the targeted programme of improvements. The dual carriageway sections of the route from Bramham to Wetherby, Dishforth to Leeming and Leeming to Barton will be upgraded to motorway at a cost of #263 million. Together with other schemes in the TPI, this will deliver continuous motorway access between London and Tyneside via the A1(M) and the M1.

All the work taking place on the roads in the area will, I am sure, provide a great deal of employment for my hon. Friend's constituents. I note the level of energy that my hon. Friend has exerted in representing his constituents' interests, and that is to be admired. He can be assured that the Government recognise the need to elicit the views of those living locally to proposed schemes at an earlier stage than has perhaps been the case in the past. He can be assured that consultation with the public will continue. The Wetherby to Walshford scheme is well advanced, and further information will be made available to the public during construction. For the Bramham to Wetherby scheme, public involvement is just starting, with the public consultation exercise currently under way.

My hon. Friend asked about dovetailing the two contracts. It is worth noting that the project management of both schemes is being undertaken by the Highways Agency carefully to manage their delivery. That does not necessarily mean that the two schemes need to be delivered by the same contractor. I do not think that any of us would wish to delay the Wetherby to Walshford scheme. The Highways Agency is fully aware of the need to improve the Bramham to Wetherby section as soon as possible, but of course that cannot be done until the public have been able to have their say as the scheme goes through its statutory processes. Also, attractive though it may seem simply to award the Bramham to Wetherby contract to the same contractor undertaking the Wetherby to Walshford scheme, my hon. Friend will recognise that it would be inappropriate to do so. Proper procurement channels must be followed to ensure best value for his constituents, and to meet the requirements of European legislation on such matters.

My hon. Friend has a more detailed knowledge of the roads in his area than I do, although one would not

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think so, listening to what I have been saying tonight to my hon. Friend. As regards access to the trading estate that he mentioned, I can assure him that neither I nor the Highways Agency would wish to encourage traffic to that successful industrial estate to take routes through local villages. In developing the Bramham to Wetherby proposals, the Highways Agency will take account of the need for good quality access to the site. However, he will understand that the complex layout of the scheme will preclude direct access from the new motorway at Walton road.

My hon. Friend asked about ensuring that the traffic diverted through Wetherby as a result of the A1 upgrade is minimised. I can confirm that the Wetherby to Walshford scheme will include measures such as the new bridge carrying York road to cater for high loads, which will reduce the number of heavy goods vehicles passing through Wetherby town centre. I recognise, of course, that the major benefits to Wetherby will materialise when the new local access road is built as part of the Bramham to Wetherby scheme. I will ensure that during the development and construction of these schemes, the Highways Agency continues to liaise closely with local authorities in the area to monitor changes in traffic patterns.

My hon. Friend asked about low-noise asphalt. All new sections of road on the A1 will be constructed with low-noise asphalt surfacing. I am sure that he will be interested to know that the contract that is currently being negotiated for the A1 DBFO project will ensure that that is the case. The draft contract that is being prepared states:

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In addition, it states:

I am sure that that will bring considerable relief to him and his constituents who have to live near the roads.

Under the current proposals, the existing carriageway of the Bramham to Wetherby section of the A1 will be retained and become the new motorway. It will, of course, be resurfaced with low-noise surfacing when maintenance is due. Its current condition suggests that that will occur between seven and 10 years from now.

My hon. Friend referred to noise barriers, which will be designed to suit the conditions at each locality. They may not always meet the aspirations of local residents, but we will consult further with interested parties on such matters as part of the consideration of order preparation. I believe that our approach of identifying the most serious problems and directing resources to them is the better way forward. I am sure that he will agree that, overall, the A1 upgrading proposals will bring very considerable benefits to his constituents. I have also asked the Highways Agency to take account of the request for a cycleway in the design of the Bramham to Wetherby scheme as it develops.

Finally, I can confirm that if my hon. Friend thinks that it is appropriate for me to meet local representatives, I shall, of course, be delighted to meet him and local residents to discuss any of the matters that have been raised.

I again congratulate my hon. Friend not only on raising such important matters for his constituents, but on the way in which he has done so and the powerful way in which he has represented them here tonight.

Question put and agreed to.

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