Traffic Management Bill

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Mr. Wilshire: That argument ill becomes the Minister, when he himself is on a five-year contract. What is the problem?

Mr. McNulty: The problem is that my contract is a personal contract between the 86,549 voters of Harrow, East and me. It is up to those voters whether I endure in my post. Nobody imposes the five-year term of that contract on me. I know what that contract is when I enter into it. It is right and proper that there be a single MP for that area and that the contract endures. It is not for central Government to dictate to local government how duties should be achieved, other than through what we have set out in guidance and in the panoply of other matters in the Bill. We have said clearly that we want the relevant duties to be in statute. We want them to be fulfilled, and there are sanctions in case they are not. We need a designated officer to secure those duties, which is the right and proper way to go. It is up to local authority authorities to determine the pay, the bread rations and whatever else of that manager. That is entirely proper in the general scheme of things, given the relationship between central Government and local government.

Mr. Chope: I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Brian White: I beg to move amendment No. 152, in

    page 7, line 29, at end insert—

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    '(2A) The arrangements must ensure that the authority—

    (a) takes into account and has regard to the importance of street works in connecting, maintaining, repairing and replacing essential services such as gas, electricity, water and telecommunications; and

    (b) in implementing the arrangements does not discriminate between its own works and street works.'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 135, in

    page 7, line 30, at end insert—

    '(3A) The traffic manager shall ensure that prior to the commencement of any work on the highway other than emergency work, by, or on behalf of the local authority which appointed him, a reasonable period is agreed and publicised within which the work should be carried out.'.

Brian White: I must admit that I was tempted to speak in the debate on new clause 1, because the amendment is on similar territory. My hon. Friend the Minister's comments in response to that debate are helpful, particularly his points about guidance and how the local authorities and highway authorities will be subject to the same rules. The Minister can be assured that I shall not push the amendment to the vote. However, I have some questions that I hope he can answer. Will we ensure that local authorities pay due regard to the provision and maintenance of essential services other than just traffic. Will he also ensure that local authorities recognise the essential nature of utilities infrastructure works? Several utilities are concerned that network management will ignore those issues. Will he ensure that they are addressed in the guidance?

Mr. Knight: I rise to speak to amendment No. 135 and to tease out some information from the Minister, because I believe that the terms of the amendment should always be best practice. Like the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, I live in Pimlico where there is a good local authority. When a parking bay is closed, prior notice is given to residents with a sign telling us that the provision will be withdrawn for the period specified on the notice. That should always be the case.

As I drive around Britain—I will not mention Leicester or Bexhill—I often find that I use a road for two or three days running, but on the fourth day a lane is closed with no prior notice that roadworks were to be carried out. In two such instances, the work was of a non-urgent nature and had been planned for several months. However, the planners had not seen fit to erect a traffic sign warning motorists that there would be a lane closure. Why is that the case? In the interests of good traffic management, motorists should be given advance warning that a route could be subject to disruption and delay. Motorists can then decide whether their journey is necessary, and if it is, they can use an alternative route. The amendment would ensure that best practice is always followed in future.

Mr. McNulty: At the risk of sounding repetitive, the issue is better dealt with in guidance. I agree with many of the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East and the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire. We have no interest in preventing utility works that benefit individuals, businesses and the whole economy, and local

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authorities will be well aware of the importance of utility services to their communities.

Duties relating to network management must be considered in the context of existing legislation. Utility companies already have a statutory right to carry out work to install or maintain apparatus. The duty placed on highway authorities in part 2 of the Bill will not interfere with that; the network management duty deals more with co-ordination and the way that works are carried out.

As I said in the little note given on guidance, good practice and advice on techniques and approaches to network management will cover, among other things, the co-ordination and direction of utility street works and authorities' own works. That broadly covers the time issues that the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire raised. When drafting secondary legislation and guidance to underpin the permit scheme, we will try to ensure that highway authorities take into account the disruption that may be caused by their works. We will also ensure that they do not discriminate unfairly against utility works.

A small tetchy point about amendment No. 135 is that it does not specify with whom the ''reasonable period'' is to be agreed. One must assume that the traffic manager will have to agree with himself the time frame for carrying out the work for the authority that employs him.

The wider point made by the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire on amendment No. 135 is fair. It was also made by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East. I assure them that, as indicated in the little aide-mémoire on statutory instruments and guidance in relation to part 2, we will take account of the points in guidance.

11.15 am

I personally cannot foresee how the highway authority could reach a position in which it was co-ordinating and directing street works in general in its area and fulfilling its statutory network management duty in clause 16 without the system suggested by the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire, which involves start and end dates, timing and getting on with works when they are ready to be done, rather than coning areas off, as we have all seen in the past. I cannot see how anything else could happen without contravening the network management duty.

With the assurance that those matters will be dealt with in guidance and as anticipated by the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire and my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East, I ask my hon. Friend to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Chope: The Government should accept amendment No. 135. If they have a quarrel with the words and think that there is ambiguity, I will happily withdraw it, with the purpose of bringing it back in better shape on Report, but unless or until the Minister makes such a commitment, I am minded to press the amendment to a vote.

The Government think that it is reasonable for the statutory undertaker to agree with the street works authority, in advance of street works, a reasonable

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period in which the works should be carried out, with an end date. If that end date is not met, penalties flow. The Minister talks about when we have a dedicated traffic manager in the local authority, and Opposition Members have said that we think that that is a good idea. A traffic manager, with a responsibility for maintaining the network and the free flow of traffic, should be able—indeed, should be required—to agree a reasonable period for the execution of the work that it has in mind with the part of the local authority that is responsible for highway work. That period can then be publicised. Amendment No. 135 does not involve a sanction other than public odium, but at least there is some sanction.

You may be aware, Mr. Beard—I do not know which part of London you come into Westminster from—that there have been road works outside Lambeth North tube station for, I think, two years. When the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson)—he is not working today—is not in Plymouth, he is obviously waiting outside Lambeth North tube station uttering words that he probably would not wish others to hear about the incompetence of that authority in carrying out those works. For a long time, there was a sign saying that the works would be completed by, I think, April 2003, but as they still have not been completed, the sign has been taken away.

If ever there were an example of why the amendment is necessary, that is surely it. There are many other examples around London—at Vauxhall Cross and elsewhere—of works that seem to be taking an incredibly long time. That does not give the travelling public, pedestrians and so on the impression that highway authorities really have an interest in expediting works so that the highway can be restored to its previous state.

What is unreasonable about requiring a traffic manager, in cases in which there is no emergency, to agree a reasonable period for the execution of work and to publicise it? If the work is carried out at greater length than was agreed, there could be a public debate, including letters in the local paper and local councillors put on the rack for the local authority's incompetence. That is what we had in mind in amendment No. 135, and I am disappointed that it does not commend itself to the Minister.

 
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