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17 Dec 2003 : Column 313WH—continued

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A180 Resurfacing

4 pm

Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this issue in Westminster Hall today. People hear of many roads around the United Kingdom, including the M25, M1, A1 and M6. The A180 is not exactly top of the list of well-known roads, but it is the main dual carriageway to the wonderful conurbation of Grimsby and Cleethorpes, serving all the major industry and ports in that area. People should know of this road, because it must be one of the noisiest in the UK—it certainly is as far as I and the residents who live alongside it are concerned. Whether one is driving along the road or is a resident alongside it, the noise is very noticeable, to the extent that if my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) and I were in a car together, we would not even be able to hear each other speak. Mind you, there are times when we may not wish to hear each other.

People in our constituencies have been campaigning for many years to have the concrete surface of the road resurfaced with low-noise material. In the past, when the residents of the village of Habrough in my constituency and the residents of Great Coates in my hon. Friend's constituency were campaigning, there was no provision for funding of such a measure. I was therefore very pleased that the 10-year transport plan, which was announced in July 2000, stated that 60 per cent. of the trunk road network would be given lower-noise surfacing. That was good news for the residents of our areas. Following that, and having supported the residents' campaign for low-noise material, I embarked on a series of parliamentary questions to try to find out exactly what was happening.

I asked for a statement and, on 2 May 2001, Tim Matthews from the Highways Agency replied via the then Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, who is now my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning. He said that they were looking into the criteria. The answer states:

At that point, we seemed to be getting closer to our objective.

We had further good news on 17 October 2001, when the list of priority roads was announced. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby and I were pleased that, according to the list, the A180 from Habrough to Stallingborough and from Great Coates to Pyewipe was due to be resurfaced with low-noise material. The list explicitly stated that those stretches of road were likely to be resurfaced in the following three years: 2002–03, 2003–04 and 2004–05. At least we knew that our roads were on the list and would be resurfaced and that the residents would at last have some peace and quiet.

However, every time that I asked further parliamentary questions about when exactly the A180 would be resurfaced, I found the replies increasingly confusing and sometimes evasive. We were never given a firm date—the answer was always, "It will be

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sometime in this period if money is available and if we need maintenance to be carried out on the road." I praise the Government for making money available, but the excitement expressed by my constituents at the initial announcement has been dissipated. They were promised that the work would be done, but as time went on, it kept getting put back.

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby) (Lab): I want to support both my hon. Friend's arguments and the efforts of the local people who have petitioned us both and kept up the pressure to get the noise reduction work done. I confess that I am a frequent maker of that noise, as I drive through my hon. Friend's constituency, although I always write to her as a parliamentary courtesy to tell her that I am doing that. The noise is a real problem, but there does not seem to be any sense of urgency in the Highways Agency's approach or in any of the developments that only a couple of years ago the Government led us to believe would be delivered.

Shona McIsaac : As ever, my hon. Friend and neighbour from Great Grimsby encapsulates the essence of the debate in a couple of articulate lines. By the way, that is my Christmas present to him—being nice to him.

I received a parliamentary answer on 28 November 2002, and it demonstrates what my hon. Friend was saying. The errors in the answer were dreadful and astonishing. Habrough, one of the main villages in the area, was continually described as Harborough, which it is not. As we know, that town is represented by another MP. The answer said:

which should be Habrough—

According to that, the work should already have been done, but I presume that it meant to say that work was due to be undertaken by 2010 under the 10-year transport plan. The answer then said that

Later than what—2005 or 2001? We could not tell.

The situation worsened when the then Minister of State for Transport, now the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (Mr. Spellar), announced the scheme to reduce traffic noise alongside trunk roads. That scheme was in the 10-year transport plan, but when we looked at the list of roads included, we found the A180 almost at the end, below nearly every other road in the UK. Furthermore, the stretches of road covered by the work had changed—the A180 Habrough to Grimsby and the A180/M180 to Ulceby. A whole new section had been included, which I understand goes through the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Mr. Cawsey).

Mr. Ian Cawsey (Brigg and Goole) (Lab): The A180 is the road that links my constituency to those of my hon. Friends the Members for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell)

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and for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac). These days, I use it largely to go to see Grimsby Town play at Blundell Park, and driving home on that noisy road can only add to the gloom and despondency that I feel after coming home from a football match.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes mentioned the M180, which runs into the A180, and she will be aware that it has recently been resurfaced by the Highways Agency, improving the life of the people living in those villages. I received some letters from people in Belton to say how much better it is. Does my hon. Friend agree that it adds to local people's frustration when they see that one section of the road has been completed while the other end of the A180 remains to be done?

Shona McIsaac : My hon. Friend, and other neighbour, also expresses his point well. The M180 has been resurfaced, and my constituents tell me that the reduction in noise is such that it is almost as though their car engines have cut out. I am sure that they say that to my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole before his drive from his constituency to Grimsby to watch the football match. People drive on the A180, where everything is juddering and making a noise—and they cannot hear the radio or traffic announcements—but suddenly, on the newly tarmacked section, it is quiet. They wonder what is happening to the car. I am so unused to low-noise surfaces that I once took my car in to be checked because I kept not hearing the engine. When I was travelling on the newly tarmacked surfaces I thought that the engine was not running properly.

The fact that one bit is done but another is not increases people's frustration. It was depressing to see the two stretches of road in question at the bottom of the list. However, it was more depressing for residents to read that there was a programme for the resurfacing of concrete roads from 2007–08 to 2010–11. Given that we were initially assured that that was likely to happen in the financial year 2004–05, hon. Members can appreciate the sense of upset experienced by all the people who had previously rejoiced when they were told that the A180 was to be resurfaced. That sense is beautifully expressed in an e-mail that I received from John Specht, a resident of Habrough, who has campaigned on this issue for many years. He and other residents of the village, such as Ann Standland, have been stalwarts. The e-mail is headed, "WHAT ON EARTH IS GOING ON?" It continues:

I should like the Minister to provide some explanations and guarantees. We want to know when this road will be resurfaced. My staff contacted the Department for Transport and tried to clarify what was happening. We received a reply, which suggested that some of the sections were to be done in 2004–05, but it was not clear. That date is not to be found anywhere in the documents produced and put on the record in the House. That has not been corrected. If these sections of road are to be resurfaced, I want that fact and the date it will be done put on the record.

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I received a reply following my attempt to ascertain—as my constituent Mr. Specht said—what on earth was going on. It said:

Again, there is no mention of Habrough. I want my hon. Friend the Minister to confirm today that that will happen.

I realise that recent debates in this Chamber have been secured by other hon. Members who have experienced problems with noisy roads. I appreciate that when it is announced that money will be available for resurfacing, Members of Parliament representing their constituents will campaign for it to be allocated to their schemes. I hope that I have demonstrated that the residents who live beside this stretch of the A180 have been told for years that the work will be done. The Highways Agency has no sense of urgency, as my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby said. I hope that the Minister is able to tell my hon. Friends here today, the residents of that part of Lincolnshire and me that they will have their road resurfaced in the future.

As this is the last debate in the Chamber before Christmas, I would like to wish you, Mr. McWilliam, the Minister, my hon. Friends, our wonderful constituents and staff an absolutely wonderful Christmas. The Christmas present that I want for those residents in my constituency is a little more silent night.

4.16 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tony McNulty) : I start by replying to those felicitations for Christmas and heartily send them back to my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) and our hon. Friends the Members for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) and for Brigg and Goole (Mr. Cawsey). I cannot do much about the appalling performance of Grimsby Town but let me try to put into context some of the matters raised. Having been a West Ham fan for far too long, pots and kettles spring to mind in my decrying Grimsby Town.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes on securing the debate and on her assiduous campaigning for the residents beside the A180. She could not have put the problems of her constituents more starkly—I do not mean this in anything other than an endearing way—when she described how, of all hon. Members, she and my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby could not hear each other in a conversation along the road. Knowing both of them, it tells me how noisy the road is on those particular sections.

Shona McIsaac : To further show how noisy the road is, I cannot hear the Minister on the "Today" programme.

Mr. McNulty : That may be a good rather than a bad thing. I must also say—purely in passing and not to

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offend anyone in the Highways Agency—that the mischievous little "r" has crept into the map given to me too. When I subsequently talk about Habrough to Stallingborough, that is what I mean and not "Harbrough", as it is called on the map.

Let me start my speech back to front because I have loads of pages and on the last two, it says:

If I have time I will go backwards.

As my hon. Friend has said, the Secretary of State announced in April the timetable for the removal of all concrete surfaces on the motorway and trunk road network by 2010–11. The work to resurface the entire stretch of the A180 between Barnetby and Grimsby was scheduled for completion in six stages between 2007 and 2011. The six stages, with apologies for any misspelling or mispronunciation as I know that pronunciation gets dodgy when one goes north of Watford, are Barnetby le Wold to Croxton, Croxton to Ulceby, Ulceby to Brocklesby junction, Habrough to Stallingborough, Stallingborough to Great Coates, and the section to which my hon. Friend alluded—Great Coates to Pyewipe.

I am able to confirm—subject to funding—that we intend to deliver the Habrough to Stallingborough section in 2004–05. I will do my absolute level best into the new year to ensure that it does prevail.

I hope that my three hon. Friends will do their level best, by badgering me and the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson)—who is currently in a Select Committee sitting and sends his apologies, which is why it falls to me to respond—to ensure that at least the Habrough to Stallingborough section is delivered in the coming year if funds are available. Inasmuch as I can reciprocate and give a Christmas present to my hon. Friends from the area, I can say that to them. I hope that that section will be delivered next year. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport and I will do all that we can to ensure delivery of that element, if funds are available.

Shona McIsaac : In order that the Minister's colleague does not get an even worse earache from my lobbying, would the Minister advise the wonderful trio who are here today of anyone else who should be lobbied to secure the funding?

Mr. McNulty : It is not for me to tell such experienced parliamentarians where to direct their fire. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is in Committee rather than here, I have been introduced to the wonders and delights of the A180. Although he is the Minister with responsibility for roads, not me, the stereo is in place. We would welcome any assiduous parliamentary colleagues, which my three hon. Friends are, keeping the pressure on us. If the funding is available, we will do all that we can to ensure that at least that part of the route is delivered, with the remaining sections being delivered between 2007 and 2011 as originally scheduled.

The six schemes to resurface the A180 with low-noise surfacing will bring benefits to my hon. Friend's constituents who live and work in the many villages along the route. I am grateful for the opportunity to

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confirm, at least as far as I can, that the Habrough to Stallingborough part will be brought forward in 2004–05. I look forward to passing on my hon. Friend's concerns and campaigning to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, because the quieter roads programme is absolutely essential for some communities that are spread along key trunk roads. That was the key reason for the announcement of the programme in the first instance.

By the way, I take on board entirely—perhaps we can explore it afterwards—why the M180 being thrown into the pot was another let-down and disappointment. Actually, it is quite the reverse. It does not belong in the element at all.

Shona McIsaac : It is done.

Mr. McNulty : Precisely so. Why we are saying that it will not be done until some time between 2007 and 2011 beggars belief.

The matter is important not just because of civil amenities, quality of life and the other matters to which my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes referred. Roads such as the A180 are real lifelines. Such thoroughfares are of importance to communities in this part of the country, as elsewhere, which is why we recognise that the programme must be carried through to fruition by 2011.

I suppose that the listing of priorities on a year-to-year basis will always be something of a movable feast. Many roads across the network have been—this is the wrong way to put it, but let me say it anyway—lovingly neglected over time, given what they were originally built with and the adjustments and modifications that should have been made since. As a result, some are in a greater state of deterioration than first envisaged when inspected for this programme. Therefore, priorities shift somewhat.

However, we recognise that traffic noise is a concern for many people, and we gave a commitment in the White Paper "A New Deal for Trunk Roads in England", which stated:

My hon. Friend has gone through the criteria that we sought to employ to deal with that, and now the programme really is in place. It is essential that things should be delivered in the way that we anticipated. Some 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. My three hon. Friends have the experience to know that.

We must ensure that cases are dealt with in order of priority—hence the criteria—and we must also ensure the effective use of resources to minimise disruption to road users. As my hon. Friend said, the Government announced the criteria in October 2001, bearing in mind need, funding and the use of the road, and we are working to ensure that things remain on schedule between 2004–05 and 2011. A number of roads have proved to be in a great state of disrepair and deterioration, to such an extent that safety as well as noise reduction has become an issue. Naturally, those roads have moved up the list of priorities.

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As I said at the start, all three of my hon. Friends can be assured that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Transport and I will do all that we can—with the single caveat "subject to funding"—to ensure that the promise that the Habrough to Stallingborough section will be delivered in 2004–05 is stuck to. All three of my colleagues will seek to ensure that the promise is kept. I would ask them to keep their eyes firmly on the ball when subsequent priority lists come out, in order to ensure that the other five elements of the A180 scheme come to fruition between 2007 and 2011. Such roads are important in terms of their interconnectivity for all communities, as well as for the peace and quiet of those who live alongside or close to them. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes for raising the matter.

Shona McIsaac : Very briefly, does my hon. Friend accept that, apart from its importance to the communities that live alongside it, the road is essential for all the industry in the area? The Humber ports are the busiest in the United Kingdom; we have car importing and exporting and oil refineries. The road is used by many heavy goods vehicles and the volume of traffic is expected to increase. I felt as though the Minister was portraying us as a quiet little part of Lincolnshire, whereas we are the industrial heartland of the country.

Mr. McNulty : I am enormously grateful for the clarification; I did not mean to give that impression at all. A look at the map will remind us of the geography and topography of the region, and the relationship between Cleethorpes, Sunderland and the Humber area. The A180 is important; the interconnectivity of the route is vital—far more so than that of similar routes—for the industrial and economic lifeblood of the region. I shall try to ensure that Habrough, not Harborough, and Stallingborough, not Leninborough, retain priority for funding in the next year, and I know that my three hon. Friends will work together to ensure that that is done for their constituents.

In absolute conclusion, I wish my hon. Friends very well for the break and the same to you, Mr. McWilliam, to colleagues and to staff of the House. I hope that everyone has a rest, because the only certainty is that we all need one. I know that those who live close to or alongside the A180 also need a rest and I shall endeavour to ensure, with colleagues and with the funding caveat, that they get one, at least between Habrough and Stallingborough, and subsequently in the other five sections.

Mr. John McWilliam (in the Chair): Order. I thank the Minister for his felicitations for the holidays on behalf of the staff and myself, and I thank the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) for her best wishes. In turn, as this is the last sitting of 2003, I wish all of you a very merry Christmas and a happy, prosperous and safe new year.

Question put and agreed to.

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