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4. Mr. Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): What steps the Government is taking to improve safety on the M25. [206093]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson): The M25 is one of the   busiest routes in Europe, with a good safety record. The Government remain committed to continuing to deliver further improvements to that important motorway and have an investment programme of £1.7 billion over the next decade to improve both safety and congestion. We continue to work in partnership with the police, the media and industry to find and implement safer ways of operating the motorway.

Mr. Rosindell: Is the Minister aware that large numbers of my constituents use the M25 regularly? I   welcome any improvements to safety, but will he
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consider increasing the speed limit by at least 10 mph? As he will be aware, much evidence suggests that that would improve safety and reduce accidents, as well as alleviating congestion.

Mr. Jamieson: I appreciate that that motorway is important, not only to the hon. Gentleman's constituents but to many constituencies in and around London and to people travelling from other parts of the country to the ports and other places. The controlled motorway pilot scheme between junctions 10 and 16,   which applies a variable speed limit, has improved safety by about 10 per cent. However, I do not think that increasing the speed limit on the motorway would add anything to road safety. If anybody wished to make such a case, they would have to demonstrate clearly that road safety improvements could be achieved by the increase.

Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that congestion is a major factor in road safety and that it makes no sense to spew millions more heavy vehicles on to a crowded motorway as a result of non-joined-up policy making? Is he aware that the effect of a go-ahead for the Shellhaven ports project would be a further 3 million heavy units on the M25 every year? Does not that re-emphasise the need to   treat ports policy as a single national entity and to develop ports to the north, especially Hunterston, which is the finest deep water port in Europe, rather than causing further congestion in the south-east and more overcrowding on the M25?

Mr. Jamieson: I admire my right hon. Friend's ingenuity—and his testing of your patience, Mr.   Speaker—in asking about ports on a roads question, but he will know that we are presently reviewing ports policy. The needs of ports are integral to our thinking on roads and rail. My right hon. Friend is right that congestion is a major factor in road safety, and the variable speed limit has improved both congestion and safety.

Road Improvements

5. Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): How much funding was allocated to the Highways Agency for road improvement schemes in (a) Kent, East Sussex and West Sussex and (b) England in each year since 2002. [206094]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson): Funding for road improvement schemes is neither allocated nor recorded on a county by county basis. The total funding allocated for road improvement schemes—including small schemes and technology improvements, but excluding maintenance—in England in each year since 2002 is as follows: for 2002–03, it was £940 million; for 2003–04, £922 million; and for 2004–05, £899 million. The figure for 2004–05 has been reduced by about £50 million to allow for the de-trunking programme, for which money has been passed to local authorities. Over that three-year period, £300 million was spent on major improvements in the south-east region.
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Gregory Barker: In light of that picture of static or falling investment in our road network, it is especially distressing for my constituents that the funding for the improvements to the A21 between Robertsbridge and Flimwell has now been kicked back to 2006. That action by the Government will severely blight that community and leave several of my constituents in real distress, because they will not be able to move or sell their houses. Will the Minister agree to meet me and representatives from that community to try to reach a solution? The solution my constituents want is for the Government to drop the scheme until they are ready to fund it properly.

Mr. Jamieson: I know that Conservative Members want us to take part in a great act of national amnesia. I remind the hon. Gentleman that in the last year of spending plans under their Government there was only £714 million in the budget, whereas in 2003–04, the amount was £922 million, a considerable increase.

The A21 is important and, as the hon. Gentleman knows from our discussions, the Highways Agency has a long-term strategy for the route, all the way from the M25 to Hastings, and the Flimwell to Robertsbridge road is one part of the scheme. The scheme is important and the Highways Agency will report on it in the new year, but it will, in the end, be remitted for local decisions.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Does the Minister recall that, a few years ago, he went to Bolsover, taking with him a cheque for £15 million to   start a road scheme to develop the old pit areas just off the M1 at Markham and Bolsover? That was welcome news and I have even better news today. Junction 29A, which I have campaigned for—to release all that land and create 5,000 jobs for ex-miners and others, covering four constituencies in north Derbyshire—has been granted and will go ahead. Labour has kept its promise. Don't let the Tories in, or they'll ruin it.

Mr. Jamieson: I thank my hon. Friend for his characteristically non-partisan question. I remember visiting his constituency two and a half years ago, when he and his local councillors impressed on me the importance of a junction between junctions 29 and 30. I   am delighted that it has been announced because it will release some of that land and create jobs in an area where many jobs were lost under the last Government through the closure of the pits. I will give careful consideration to naming the junction Skinner's junction.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): May I take the Minister back to road funding for Kent? The east Kent approach road is vital to the development of Manston airport, the continued commercial development of Pfizer—a major employer at Sandwich—the development of Westwood cross and the whole economic development of east Kent. Will he explain why his Department does not consider phase 2 of the road a priority? Will he also explain the logic in allowing Kent county council to commence the road, but then pulling the plug on the funding for the rest of it?
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Mr. Jamieson: All our road programmes are a matter of priorities, and the airport was considered among those priorities. All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that local authorities have received considerably more money from the Government. Great increases in funding for local transport plans have been available to local authorities. I would ask the people he represents to   reflect on what would happen if his hon. Friends were in power, with their proposals for huge cuts in transport funding.

Mr. Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend for reminding us of the near-desert of funding in the Sussex area until the Labour Government came to power. I especially thank him for the generosity in funding the link road between Hastings and Bexhill. As some delays are likely in the funding of new schemes, I ask my hon. Friend that nothing be done to slow down traffic on the A21, for example on the Flimwell bypass, until other schemes come into effect.

Mr. Jamieson: I congratulate my hon. Friend on being a persistent and consistent campaigner for that road, which is so important to his constituency. I can assure him that the road safety improvements that we propose at Flimwell will not take place until at least the Lamberhurst bypass has been opened. As he knows, I   am carefully considering the road safety implications on that stretch of road; we have to balance those against traffic flow and the need for vehicles to overtake.

Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk) (Con): Does the Minister agree that the best way to fund some increases in road capacity is through user charges? As new roads have such long lead times, why does he not get on with some of the projects identified in this year's joint study from the CBI, the Freight Transport Association and the Automobile Association, instead of simply embarking on another round of consultations on road pricing?

Mr. Jamieson: Well, this is interesting: the hon. Gentleman now shows himself more committed to user charging. On the ground, some of his party's members and councils have opposed things such as congestion charging. That seems rather inconsistent. As he knows, and as has been said from the Dispatch Box on several occasions, road user charging can come in only when we have the technology in the cars and in the sky, and that is probably 10 years away. However, we are certainly talking about it and consulting, and we shall be pleased to have the hon. Gentleman's support.

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