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6.28 pm

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I have declared my interests in the register. I welcome the general thrust of the Government's intentions, as the official Opposition did through the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Green). There is a

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big congestion problem and there are things that can be done to manage the existing road network more successfully to reduce some congestion pressures, so I hope that the House gets to work on the Bill in a spirit of co-operation.

There are possibilities for building alliances from Members of all parties, because we all face the problem of congested roads and frustrated journeys. We all have many constituents who find it increasingly difficult to get to work, to the shops or to the leisure facilities that they wish to visit, but they have to go by car because there is no viable public transport alternative for many of those journeys.

I therefore have a list of some 10 proposals, which could be accommodated within the legislation or be added as a strength by developing other policies outside it that might go further than the Bill in dealing with congestion. My first proposal is connected to car parking. My observation is that, in many busy urban environments, a lot of the traffic circulating is traffic that is frustrated at not being able to find an easy parking place near the station, bus stop or shops that the person wishes ultimately to use. All too many car parks at public transport interchanges are full after about 8 or 8.30 am because their size is not adequate for the number of people wishing to change mode of travel.

Town centre car parking is often not adequate for the binge shopping that now characterises our retail experience: everybody wishes to go on the same two or three days after Christmas or new year to do all their shopping for the year for many items in the sales, and there simply is not enough car parking space. More and more traffic therefore circulates and chases fewer and fewer spaces in car parks and on the street. We should therefore look at the adequacy of parking, particularly for transport interchanges, and those same transport interchange car parks could be a useful adjunct to shopping car parks at the weekend, when fewer people would want to use them for their main purpose: transport interchange. In my area, we face totally inadequate car parking at main railway stations and adjacent to main shopping areas. A more realistic parking policy would reduce much unnecessary circulation.

The second item on my list could be arranged by the Department for Transport in conjunction with colleagues responsible for planning: parking of vehicles at or near people's homes. Present planning guidance seems to encourage fewer garages and fewer off-street car parking places for people's vehicles. Much of the guidance assumes that the typical family has only one and a half cars. I do not know about you, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I have never met any families with one and a half cars. In my area, the increasing trend is for all families to have two cars, because both the wife and the husband wish to go to work or to separate leisure or retail facilities. That requires two cars, and places are therefore needed to garage or park those cars off-street. If many of the cars were taken off-street when stationary, that would make a big impact on the available road space for cars, lorries, vans, emergency vehicles and buses to circulate, and the place would be improved aesthetically if people put cars in their garages and closed their garage doors. My observation is that,

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when people own their cars, they tend to put them in their garages and lock the doors, whereas if their cars are provided by a company, they often put about £300 of junk in the garage, close the door, and leave the £15,000 motor outside. Life is not perfect, but it would be good to change planning guidance so that more off-street parking places are provided in residential areas to free road space for circulation.

The third issue, which is already covered by this Bill, is roadworks. I welcome the Government's moves to try to expedite roadworks and clarify the duties of the private sector contractors and businesses that need access to the highway to dig it up in order to repair or expand facilities. I am glad that the Government welcome competition and choice, which means more such organisations having the right or need to enter the highway for those purposes. I hope that when scrutiny has finished in Committee, sense will have been made of the powers that local and national Government require to control or discipline that work.

The Minister should also ensure that the Bill acts against traffic management authorities—highways authorities—themselves. My observation is that local and national highways authorities are as guilty as private sector utilities of digging up roads at inappropriate times of day, of coning off too much road space or large chunks of it when people are not working on the site, and of not removing the cones where possible to facilitate traffic flows. It is possible in some cases for local and national highways authorities to insist on overnight or weekend working, or working at periods of the day and year when the roads are less busy. That is not universal practice, however. Given how our main routes are overtaxed and overstressed, it should become common practice to undertake disruptive works overnight or at less busy times of the day and year to improve flows at peak periods when congestion is usually at its worst. I hope that the Minister will consider amending the Bill to place strong duties of care on highways authorities to ensure that they, too, behave themselves when entering our streets and deciding to close down lanes or whole roads.

Mr. Drew: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one thing that makes that so much more difficult is contractualisation? I have some sympathy with his point, but surely with predictable work—this would not necessarily apply to emergency work, although even that could be covered—a work team should be on call to complete it in the shortest period. That is much more difficult when contractual arrangements are in place.

Mr. Redwood: I do not think that that is true at all. The highways authority employs the contractor, and it can specify in the contract not only the works that need to be done, which it must specify anyway, but the hours of working. When granting planning permissions for major developments, particularly in busy areas such as London, it is normal for the local authority to lay down conditions on when and how the building contractors can get access to the site, the hours of working, the hours at which they can use noisy implements and so on. Those of us who are residents in the centre of London welcome such restrictions for our protection. Similar

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restrictions can be placed on contractors working directly for the highways authority. That does not mean that all work must be done in-house but merely that some foresight and proper management of the contract is needed so that the highway is not abused and congested unnecessarily by the actions of the highways authority—often the worst culprit in this connection.

My fourth point is a similar one in relation to the Highways Agency acting on the motorways and main national trunk routes. I read in my papers recently that the M25 will be widened on its western section close to my constituency. I welcome that because it is necessary progress. It is a very successful road, and without it the economy of Britain would scarcely function at modern levels—it takes so many of the goods and passengers that need to move around London and across the country. Of course more capacity is needed. I find it extraordinary that it will take two years to add a couple of lanes to a rather short section of the motorway, and that much of the work will take place during busy hours of the day.

I cannot imagine that the authorities would decide to do that to one of the two principal runways at Heathrow. They would not say that they will take a couple of years to improve the runway and make sure that it is closed down or has speed restrictions on it at busy times when all the jets are stacked up to leave or come in from America and elsewhere. That would make no commercial sense. Of course, work is done very quickly at Heathrow and it is done overnight and at times when the runway can be shut.

The same should apply to the M25, which is probably the most vital transport investment made in this country in the last 100 years and the crucial central link of our whole transport system. Given that more than 80 per cent. of all goods and passengers go by road, and given that the M25 is the main link for the whole national network, taking huge flows of traffic, surely it is possible to do that work in less than two years and to avoid doing it at busy times of the day. I hope that the Highways Agency will be re-instructed, certainly on future contracts if not on those, so that we can have a better performance in future.

My fifth proposition is that much of the congestion in urban and developed areas comes from stops made by buses and delivery vehicles without proper pull-ins or access to the facilities to which they wish to get access. In the case of new bus stops, it would be wise for local authorities to require pull-ins or for the bus stop to be sited on a section of the highway on which traffic can get past the bus safely, without having to queue behind it while people get on and off the bus and, sometimes, pay their fares.

Mrs. Dunwoody: I can cite a case in which a bus service was withdrawn simply because it was impossible to take a single-decker bus down a road in which people parked their cars. When I suggested that there should be nice yellow lines, the residents of the road were singularly unhappy.

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