Traffic Management Bill

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Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne) (Con): There aren't many.

John Thurso: There are not, but the truth is that we get occurrences of snow far more often and are prepared for it every winter.

I am fascinated by the concept of undue specificity—a wonderful new word to enter the lexicon. I understand what the Minister was driving at, and have some sympathy with him. I have undertaken commercial negotiations and have inserted specific clauses to invalidate other points, but that was certainly not my intention here. I am grateful for the assurance that the Minister gave on consultation and the assurance that our points will be taken in the guidance. That is obviously welcome, and on the basis of that assurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Knight: I beg to move amendment No. 83, in

    page 7, line 20, at end insert—

    '(2A)(i) The local traffic authority shall not reduce the width or number of carriageways or introduce any permanent restriction on motor vehicle traffic flows on their road network without first conducting a consultation exercise thereon to ascertain that any measures proposed have clear majority support amongst local residents, shopkeepers and those businesses likely to be affected.

    (ii) The manner, nature and period of such mandatory consultation shall be determined by the Secretary of State.'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 24—Carriageway restriction (consultation)—

    '(1) The local traffic authority shall not reduce the width or number of carriageways or introduce any permanent restriction on motor vehicle traffic flow on their road network without first

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    conducting a consultation exercise thereon to ascertain that any measures proposed have clear majority support amongst local residents, shopkeepers and those businesses likely to be affected.

    (2) The manner, nature and period of such mandatory consultation shall be determined by the Secretary of State.'.

Mr. Knight: We have had some dangerous talk from the Minister this morning—dangerous for him. Perhaps I should warn him not to announce too often that he likes to be ministerial and non-partisan: when Lady Thatcher was Prime Minister, if she ever heard one of her Ministers making such a comment, she took the view that he had gone native and he was very soon relieved of his ministerial duties. I give the Minister that friendly warning.

Amendment No. 83 and new clause 24 seek to cure what I believe is a widespread problem, arising from the conflict between the stated aims of the Bill and the current behaviour and attitude of many local authorities. There are a number of reasons for that conflict. Some councillors seem to hold a misguided view that removing traffic makes city centres more popular. Across England and Wales, roads are closed in city after city; one-way systems are introduced; traffic lanes are narrowed; pavements are widened. We are told that that is in the interests of making the city centre more desirable. However, at the same time, the number of shoppers going into city centres appears, in some cases, to be on the decline: the public prefer to visit out-of-town shopping centres, where they can drive up to the entrance of the shopping mall, park their car for nothing, and do their shopping with ease.

If a local traffic authority suggests the introduction of road narrowing, pavement widening or traffic restrictions, a duty should be imposed on it to consult people living and businesses operating in the locality to see whether that is what is wanted. In too many cases, weak councillors and in-house officers, who, frankly, should be contracted out, advance new traffic schemes in order, one feels in some cases, to justify their employment. Too many of those decision makers equate car use with pollution. We know that that is not necessarily the case. One thing on which we can commend the Mayor of London is the fact that drivers of non-polluting cars—electric vehicles or vehicles powered by liquefied petroleum gas—are exempt from paying the congestion charge. The Opposition welcome that.

10.15 am

The amendment and new clause would provide a duty to consult residents. I assume that the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), who is not present, would welcome that provision, in the light of his comments the other day about the introduction of unwanted and unnecessary speed humps in his constituency, against the wishes of local people. The provision would also enable local businesses to have a say.

Many years ago, I used to live in the city of Leicester, and part of that city was an area called Lee Circle, a prosperous and thriving area. A few months ago, I happened to visit Lee Circle and it was deserted, with many factories and properties unoccupied. The reason was that the people who at one time would have gone into the city of Leicester to shop prefer to

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use one of the city's out-of-town shopping centres because of the anti-car, anti-motorist policy that the council has pursued for a number of years. For far too long, in too many cities, motorists have suffered from unnecessary meddling, which has affected their ability to travel freely.

Brian White: Is the hon. Gentleman not confusing a chicken-and-egg question? The building of out-of-town shopping centres causes the decline in the town centres, rather than the decline in the town centres giving rise to the out-of-town shopping centres.

Mr. Knight: That would make an interesting study, but I do not think that it is the case.

Brian White: That kind of study has been done, and the point has been made over a number of years through the Royal Town Planning Institute and similar organisations.

Mr. Knight: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman and I should put in for a debate in Westminster Hall, in which we could explore that matter in far greater detail than the confines of the Committee allow. I do not accept his point. I believe that, by and large, shoppers prefer the greater range of goods and shops available in city centres, if they can get there without difficulty, and if they can park their cars with ease, and without having to pay too much for the privilege.

I referred earlier to the city of Leicester. One would have thought that if Leicester wanted to attract back some of the customers who go to out-of-town shopping centres, the council would have given the public some incentive to go back into the city. However, it has recently decided that every on-street car-parking place in the city must be paid for, so there is now no free on-street parking in Leicester. That is unlikely to entice people back into the city centre because, for the moment, they can park free at an out-of-town shopping centre. Even if the argument put forward by the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East contains some merit, I do not see that it would necessarily lead him to oppose the amendment or new clause, because all we are saying is, ''Let's consult.'' What is wrong with that?

Mr. Redwood: My right hon. Friend has made some powerful points. Under Governments of both political persuasions, planning permissions have been given in large numbers for out-of-town retail centres. Such centres now exist, and I do not believe that the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East is suggesting that they should be closed down. We have to live with them.

My right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) is right to say that, given the choice, many of our constituents would choose to drive to a convenient out-of-town centre and park in a free car park by the door of the shop, rather than battling with the difficulties of many town and city centres, which are created by traffic restrictions and inadequate and costly parking. Many local authorities have decided to create an artificial scarcity in parking in the centre of the town or city, enabling private operators to charge extremely high prices. There is therefore both a price deterrent and a physical limitation. The physical limitation greatly increases

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congestion and pollution because many motorists circulate, desperately trying to find a car park that still has some spaces, often involving long detours and unnecessary journeys.

My right hon. Friend is right to suggest that there should be some democratic and popular constraint on road closures, diversions and the reduction of carriageways. An unhealthy process is under way in many parts of the country. It usually begins with the objective of reducing speed and flows on a main road so that extra lights, chicanes and carriageway reductions or narrowings go in on the main highway. Frustrated motorists then seek alternative routes, and a series of rat runs develops and becomes much more popular. They often go through residential areas, and people living along the rat runs are naturally unhappy. They often campaign for greater restrictions on the rat run route than there are on the main route that people are trying to avoid. They are often successful, and then we have a further reduction in the capacity of the local road network alongside the capacity reduction of the principal highway. It becomes a vicious spiral resulting in much more congestion, pollution and frustration.

Rarely do the local authorities undertaking such projects put in a good public transport alternative to give people a chance to use a bus or train for their journey instead of having to battle with the restrictions in road space. While I welcome and support my right hon. Friend's amendment, I suspect that it will be only a partial answer. It may be the case, where the restrictions are to be imposed on a local road used as a rat run, that they will be popular if the consultation is limited to those who live along it. Any of us living on such a route would obviously like to see the traffic restricted. The issue is how wide the consultation should go.

My right hon. Friend's amendment highlights and would tackle the problem. It would work in terms of principal routes. As my analysis has shown, the cycle of road restriction and increased congestion often begins with attempts to reduce and limit the use that people can make of the principal highway where proper consultation in the whole surrounding area might produce a counter balance. My right hon. Friend and I, in proposing the amendment, need to ask how the legitimate aims of the Highways Authority can be met without imposing such restrictions. It has one important, legitimate aim: the promotion of safety. Instead of restricting the carriageway space on main routes, the local authority should encourage more segregation between different types of user and more segregation of traffic moving or turning in different directions. Far from narrowing carriageways, we need wherever possible segregated right and left-turning lanes and segregated areas for cyclists, not on the main carriageway, to avoid conflict between more vulnerable and less vulnerable road users.

I am a strong believer that we need much safer roads, and better design, particularly at junctions, could make an important contribution. Many the

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so-called safety schemes that I see around the country increase the dangers; certainly the type that involve artificial chicanes, which encourage a game of chicken between dangerous drivers, are undesirable. We cannot rely on the common sense and goodwill of all drivers when approaching those chicanes, sometimes priorities are less than clear and some of the narrowing of carriageways is also dangerous because, on a busy road with two or more lanes, if the lane is too narrow, a motorist behaving himself can be horribly squeezed by a bus or large articulated lorry that finds it genuinely difficult to stay within its tram lines; indeed, in some cases, it is impossible because of the artificial narrowing of routes.

Local authorities should therefore be under a greater duty of care. There is a strong safety reason for encouraging better design of highways and, where possible, widening rather than narrowing principal routes.

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