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19 Nov 2003 : Column 321WH—continued

A38 and A50

4.17 pm

Mrs. Janet Dean (Burton): I welcome the opportunity for a debate on traffic noise on the A50 and A38 in my constituency. I was very pleased when, in July 1998, the Government announced their quieter roads programme. That was a good step forward, because for too long, roads were built with materials such as concrete, which, although hard-wearing, was noisy both for local people and for road users.

Naturally, we can all argue for earlier dates, but I understand the need for the assessments that have taken place over recent years, and I know that we must make the best use of resources, by fitting the programme in with maintenance programmes due to take place. However, the A50 and the A38 have both been unfortunate with the assessment process and the timing of the programme. I shall discuss the two roads separately.

The A38, which passes through—indeed, in places, over—Burton upon Trent is, as the Minister will know, a major cross-country route from the west to the east midlands. I first received complaints from constituents in Burton upon Trent and Branston about the noise from the road in late 1998. The northbound carriageway of the road was surface-dressed in August 1998, which appears to have exacerbated the noise problem. According to a response that I received from Lord Whitty when he was Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Transport and the Regions, the work was ordered from the contractor in the spring of 1998, prior to the publication in July of the Government's new noise policy, set out in "A New Deal for Trunk Roads in England". That was the first instance of unfortunate timing.

In 1999, the new surface started to fail due to defective materials. Repairs were carried out at the contractor's expense, using the same materials. I raised my concerns with Ministers and the Highways Agency. I said that although the Government had announced their intention to introduce quieter roads, a noisier surface had been laid on a major trunk road. The difference was even more significant because in 1983, 1984 and 1987, porous asphalt had been used on a section of the A38 as a trial to evaluate the drainage performance of the material. One side effect of the porous asphalt was that noise levels were reduced. Although the northbound test surface was removed in 1996, there was incremental increase in noise between then and 1998, when my constituents complained to me.

Following an assessment of the scheme and the programme for road surfacing, I was advised by the Highways Agency in 2001 that the A38 Burton bypass was included in the programme for the 2003–04 financial year. I have received a further letter from the Highways Agency that says that work on the A38 between Branston junction and Clay Mills is scheduled to take place in the financial year 2004–05. I seek a reassurance that that work will be carried out in the next financial year, and not put back again.

I also ask for clarification on behalf of a Branston constituent, who tells me that he believes that the noise from which residents in the area of the village's main

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street suffer comes from the road south of the Branston junction. Will the Minister tell me whether resurfacing of that section will also be carried out in the near future?

The A50 is another major east-west route, which runs to the north of Uttoxeter in my constituency. I have received complaints about the noise from the road from residents of both Uttoxeter and the rural area of Leigh, to the west of the town. Again, I have been in contact with Ministers and the Highways Agency about my constituents' complaints for some time. The A50 has been improved in stages over the years, resulting in a great increase in traffic along its whole length. The parts of the A50 that most affect my constituents are the concrete section between Blythe Bridge and the New road—A522—junction in Uttoxeter, and the length between that junction and the Ashbourne road—B503—junction, which is surfaced with hot-rolled asphalt.

I am concerned that in the current programme for resurfacing concrete roads, the Blythe Bridge to Uttoxeter section will not be resurfaced until between 2007–08 and 2010–11. I have also been advised that the length between New road and Ashbourne road will be resurfaced in sections between 2004 and 2008. The Doveridge bypass, which is the section east of Uttoxeter, was opened after June 1988, so it is timetabled to have a quieter road surface applied between 2004–05 and 2006–07. Although I am pleased that the problems of residents of Doveridge in west Derbyshire are recognised, I do not believe that it is right that the Blythe Bridge to Uttoxeter section should have to wait longer than the Doveridge bypass, simply because of when the roads were built.

The opening of the Doveridge bypass in February 1998, along with other major improvements along the A50, resulted in the traffic increasing by 51.3 per cent. between 1997 and 1998 along the whole route. The increase along the Blythe Bridge to Uttoxeter section was even greater, at 57 per cent. The route total has risen from 19,075 vehicles for a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week average in 1997, to 43,132 in 2002. The Blythe Bridge to Uttoxeter section has risen from 15,657 to an average of 36,591.

As the traffic has more than doubled since the upgrading of the A50 was completed in 1998, the noise emanating from both the concrete section and the hot-rolled asphalt section in Uttoxeter has increased dramatically. The way in which schemes are assessed means that the length west of Uttoxeter may have to wait up to six years longer than the length east of Uttoxeter, yet the traffic and noise increase has been the same. That cannot be just or sensible.

I hope that the Minister will reassure me that the timetable for work on the Blythe Bridge to Uttoxeter section will be reviewed to take into account the impact of the improvements on the whole route. This is an exceptional case, and I believe that that should be recognised in the programme of works. I hope that the Minister will also reassure me that a quieter surface will be applied to the length between New road and Ashbourne road early in the period 2004 to 2008.

As I said, I know that everyone hopes that schemes in their particular area will be put at the start of any programme. In the case of the A38 and the A50, however, the arguments for the early relief of the difficulties that my constituents face are strong.

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4.25 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson) : I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mrs. Dean) on securing the debate and on recognising the benefits of the Government's policy on quieter roads. I also thank her for her proportionate opening remarks about the Government's need to ensure that work in progress is a priority. Her contribution today, and her correspondence with the Highways Agency and my Department, show her to be an effective voice for her constituents in Burton. Long may she continue to be so.

My hon. Friend wanted to be sure that our approach was just and sensible, which I believe it is, but before I go into the details of the two roads in question—the A38 and the A50—it would be helpful to say a little about the background to the development of the Government's quieter roads programme.

The strategic road network helps to support a healthy economy by providing the backbone for the effective distribution of goods and services and the easy movement of people, but it is not without disadvantages. People who live close to major roads sometimes experience the effects of increased noise, and the expansion of the road network inevitably disturbs the local environment, as my hon. Friend described.

A balance that satisfies our economic and environmental needs must be struck. Indeed, much can be done to minimise any negative impact on the environment. I often say that the Highways Agency is the second largest planter of trees in this country—second only to the Forestry Commission—so we do take environmental matters very seriously.

The Government recognise that traffic noise is a concern for many people, and in the White Paper, "A New Deal for Trunk Roads in England", which was published in July 1998, we gave a commitment that

I am sure that that will be of comfort to my hon. Friend.

In March 1999, we announced sift criteria for identifying the most serious and pressing cases, and a ring-fenced budget of £5 million a year for dealing with the most serious cases in which practical, cost-effective noise mitigation measures could be found. The criteria are as follows. First, trunk roads must have been opened before June 1988, but priority attention is to be given to locations affected by roads that have remained unaltered since October 1969—the qualifying date for the first introduction of noise mitigation measures. Secondly, current—that is, 1998—noise levels immediately adjacent to the road must have been at least 80 dB. Thirdly, in the case of roads opened or altered after October 1969, noise levels must be at least 3 dB greater than predicted for the design when the road was being planned. The aim was to address people's disappointment that the noise levels mentioned during the planning process were different from those experienced when the road was eventually opened.

In November 1999, a list appeared in Hansard under cover of a letter from the chief executive of the Highways Agency, showing the most serious and pressing cases to be studied to ascertain the most practical and cost-effective solutions. That became

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familiarly known as the "Hansard list". By the time of the Government's 10-year plan, published in July 2000, the Highways Agency had been set the target of installing quieter surfaces on more than 60 per cent. of the trunk road and motorway network, including all concrete stretches, by 2010–11. That will benefit approximately 3 million people living within about one third of a mile from such roads.

The Government's trunk road noise reduction policy over the period of the 10-year plan can be summarised as follows: a noise mitigation programme costing £5 million a year to address sites that meet the "Hansard list" criteria; resurfacing all concrete roads with quieter materials; and resurfacing black-top roads with quieter materials when normal maintenance is required.

About 5 per cent. of the trunk road network at some 70 different locations is constructed with a concrete surface. Clearly, given the scale of the problem, the work cannot be completed overnight. To ensure that cases are dealt with in order of priority, we have established criteria to be used to phase in the work over the 10 years. That will also ensure the effective use of resources and minimise disruption to road users.

In October 2001, the Government announced the criteria to be used by the Highways Agency to determine the priority for different parts of the network to be resurfaced by 2010–11. I shall set out those criteria. Where possible, the application of quieter surfaces will fit in with normal maintenance needs. Priority will be given to sites where treatment will benefit the greatest number of people. Works will be carried out in such a way as to minimise disruption to the general public and users of the trunk road and motorway network. Priority will be given to roads opened since June 1988 where noise levels have turned out to be significantly higher than was predicted when they were planned.

Following the announcement, the Highways Agency continued study work to identify schemes that satisfied the criteria. The fourth criterion was introduced because the extra noise arising from concrete surfaces remained the most significant factor causing excess nuisance from traffic once we had rectified the under-prediction attributable to underestimating traffic growth in assessments made before 1988. The agency also identified 17 roads with concrete surfaces that had been open since 1988, and undertook a programme of noise surveys to identify those that satisfied the fourth criterion. Following completion of that work, the Government announced in April 2003 a timetable for removing all concrete surfaces on the motorway and trunk road network by 2010–11. The report on the surveys of the 17 lengths of concrete road was placed in the Library.

In the first phase, between 2004–05 and 2006–07, more than 11,500 homes throughout the country will benefit from reduced traffic noise, and journeys on those roads will, of course, be quieter for motorists, too. Priority for the first phase of the work has been given to the schemes where resurfacing will benefit more than 100 properties per kilometre or, if the road was opened after June 1988, where the current noise level is 3 dB greater than predicted. That is equivalent to the noise increase expected from doubling the volume of traffic on the road. Of necessity, the arrangements are somewhat complex, but they are designed to ensure that the resurfacing work is carried out as equitably as possible.

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My hon. Friend raised specific points about the A38 and A50 trunk roads, and I fully understand her concerns about the resurfacing of the A38. Because of pressure to undertake urgent maintenance elsewhere in the region, since 1998 we have had to carry out minor works to keep the surface of the A38 intact. My hon. Friend referred to that. The section involved is between Branston and Clay Mills, to the west of Burton on Trent, and is known as the Burton bypass.

That section of road does not have a concrete surface. Various forms of an experimental quiet surfacing material, now known generically as porous asphalt, were put on trial there between 1984 and 1994. The experimental sections, which were about 100 m long, were spread over a length of about 4 km along the southbound carriageway between the junctions at Branston and Clay Mills. The northbound carriageway was mainly constructed with conventional hot-rolled asphalt.

The original reason for the experiment was to test the effectiveness of such material at reducing spray, which was a problem on the road because of the relatively high number of heavy goods vehicles that used it. It was realised that the porous surface, originally designed for airport runways to stop aquaplaning, might be useful for roads, but might also deteriorate rather quickly. Because of wear and tear over the 10 years, most of the trial surfaces had to be replaced with hot-rolled asphalt, which generates considerably more tyre noise than the new porous asphalt.

The resurfacing undertaken on the Burton bypass in 1998 was necessary to restore its skid-resistance. The most cost-effective treatment selected was surface dressing, as the underlying carriageway construction was sound. It was inevitable that restoring the surface roughness would increase noise to some extent. However, surface dressing is recognised as a treatment with a relatively short life, and in due course, it would be necessary to undertake some major works on the carriageway and replace the whole surface layer.

I am pleased to say that, as part of the normal maintenance programme, this section of the A38 is included in a major resurfacing scheme between Branston and Clay Mills programmed to take place in 2004–05. That is subject to the availability of funding—and my hon. Friend knows that we have been generous in funding our roads. I can confirm that the work will go ahead in the time scale that she described. It will include the provision of the quieter road surface that she asked about, which is likely to reduce traffic noise by as much as 30 per cent. That will be welcome to her constituents, some of whom live close to the road, particularly in the northern section. I hope that that is a sign of good news on the horizon for my hon. Friend.

The announcement by the Secretary of State in April 2003 listed the concrete section of the A50 between Blythe Bridge and Uttoxeter among those scheduled for resurfacing in the period between 2007–08 and 2010–11, subject to the availability of funding. My hon. Friend expressed concern that the Blythe Bridge to Uttoxeter section was treated differently from the Doveridge bypass, which was listed among those to be treated in the preceding three-year period. I assure my hon. Friend

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that that was not the case. The resurfacing of the Blythe Bridge to Uttoxeter section has been prioritised on a consistent basis with all other concrete sections, according to the criteria outlined earlier.

Doveridge bypass is scheduled for resurfacing before the Blythe Bridge to Uttoxeter section. That is because the Doveridge bypass, which was opened in 1998, meets the criterion of having been opened after June 1988, and having a noise level 3 dB greater than predicted. The section from Blythe Bridge to Uttoxeter, which opened in 1985, does not meet that criterion. Furthermore, resurfacing would not benefit more than 100 properties per kilometre.

Mrs. Dean : Does my hon. Friend accept that the increase in traffic has been greater, if anything, on the Blythe Bridge to Uttoxeter section? I accept the way in which things were worked out using the criteria. However, I would suggest that the effect on the ground is that the section of road between Blythe Bridge and Uttoxeter has noisier concrete than the Doveridge section. I do not want to push Doveridge back at all, but we should look at the case again. When a road is made up of sections built at different times, as the Uttoxeter to Blythe Bridge section is, the increase in noise may be equivalent to the increase in noise when traffic more than doubles, as it has done on the Doveridge section.

Mr. Jamieson : I accept my hon. Friend's point. I undertake to examine the recent surveys to reassure her that the matter has been dealt with consistently. Although we try to be fair, those further back in the process always feel a little hard done by, which I accept because the stress and anxiety caused by noise make them impatient to get the work done.

The Blythe Bridge to Uttoxeter section was considered for noise mitigation measures under the criteria announced in March 1999 to identify the most serious and pressing cases that merited further detailed study, which was promised in "A New Deal for Trunk Roads in England". Because the A50 from Blythe Bridge to Uttoxeter met the sift criteria, a detailed study was completed in April this year. The study revealed that the wide scatter of affected properties makes replacement of the concrete surface the most appropriate treatment to address the noise issues. Given the nature of the road, I think that my hon. Friend would agree that other mitigation measures would have a marginal effect on the properties; the road needs a different surface.

Mrs. Dean : Is it possible to examine pockets of properties along the Blythe Bridge to Uttoxeter section to see whether specific areas would benefit from planting? For example, Leigh's residents are affected by the noise from the A50.

Mr. Jamieson : I imagine that that work has already been done. I undertake to examine the survey to see whether a proportionate amount of money can be spent. Obviously, we do not want to spend money disproportionately, because that might push back the programme for resurfacing the whole road. If there are particular hot spots and we can deal with them economically, however, I will be happy to examine them. I think that my hon. Friend accepts that the

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answer is getting the road resurfaced, and when that happens, many of the other measures will become otiose. It was decided that resurfacing would be achieved within the commitment in the 10-year plan for transport, and priority was assigned according to the criteria that I have described.

It is too early to provide a more specific indication of when resurfacing may take place within the time frame set out by the Secretary of State for Transport in his April statement. However, I assure my hon. Friend that the Highways Agency will keep her informed as its detailed in-year programme develops. Although mitigating noise from trunk roads and motorways is a complex subject, I hope that she agrees that the

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Government are doing all they can to ensure that we have the fairest system that will benefit the greatest number of people over the next few years.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on raising this matter, because noise from roads intrudes on people's lives. It can cause a great deal of upset and makes people angry. That is especially true when traffic grows, which has clearly happened in Burton; Burton's economy is thriving, which means more vehicles on the road. I will make sure that my hon. Friend gets full and proper answers to the questions that she has raised.

Question put and agreed to.

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