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The right hon. Gentleman is well aware of the situation in Leicester. We first crossed swords as members of Leicester city council and often found ourselves in agreement on issues relating to the well-being of the city, despite being on different sides, as we are now. Although I am not aware of the details of the scheme about which he talks, I can see many difficulties associated
with such a scheme in a city such as Leicester-not least, in identifying which vehicles are to be penalised in the way suggested. I would also suggest that it would make very little impact on levels of congestion in a city such as Leicester or, indeed, any similar urban area.
I was making the point that, like road pricing, further extensive road building is not a panacea. Predict and provide, of which some will be aware, is now, thankfully, a fashion long passed. It was an era in which engineers-it was mostly engineers making these predictions-in justification of often grandiose schemes, would predict a level of traffic and seek to provide the flyovers, motorways and other grandiose projects supposedly necessary to meet their predictions. Fortunately, we have moved on from that, and I am delighted that the Government no longer take the view that it is possible to predict levels of road traffic and to provide the roads necessary to accommodate them, only to see them fill up in a couple of years and for further schemes to have to come along behind them to meet the new levels of traffic.
I was struck, when the Committee received its evidence on levels of congestion, by the fact that many of those seeking to argue for further road building did so on the basis of dubious methodology that costed congestion-costs that are inevitably very high-in a way that sought to justify additional spending on roads by setting it against those congestion costs. As I said, I found the methodology very dubious. It is based on the premise that if we build roads, we will reduce congestion, that if we reduce congestion, we will reduce journey times, and that if we reduce journey times, we will reduce the costs.
Frankly, those conclusions do not follow from each other. In the real world, building extra roads does not necessarily reduce congestion; it does not necessarily reduce journey times; and it certainly does not necessarily reduce the costs. The evidence for that is not there; the evidence of our experience is that building roads leads to those roads filling up. The Committee received compelling evidence from Dr. David Metz, who has written a book entitled, "The Limits to Travel", which I read after hearing his evidence. I was enormously impressed by the arguments that he put to the Committee and in his book. They are based on some simple measures of how people behave. He demonstrated to the Committee, and very clearly in his book, that when journeys are made easier, in general people travel further.
That is not necessarily a bad thing, but it significantly undermines the argument that the way to deal with congestion is to build more roads, which is something that in fact leads to people travelling further. David Metz demonstrates in his book that, over the considerable periods of time during which he researched the issue, as well as in different sorts of societies in different places, the time spent on journeys remains remarkably constant. What happens when journeys are made easier is that people travel further. Therefore, rather than having evidence of the so-called costs of congestion that supports building additional roads, we actually have evidence that suggests that people will travel further and more often, making journeys that are, in the broadest sense, not necessary.
The third set of points arising from the Committee's report that I want to address are ones on which I know that the Government are sympathetic, and concern the many ways in which better use can be made of our
existing road network as an alternative to building more roads. I know that the Government are doing much on that, and no doubt in reply to this debate the Minister will draw attention to some of the things that the Government are doing already. Technology is increasingly available that enables roads to be used better and those driving vehicles to receive better information, whether on the roadside, in the cab, if they are driving a lorry, or through extensions of the information available through sat-nav technology.
Finally on those points, I know that the Government are also sympathetic to continued investment in public transport as an alternative to investment in roads. That includes investment in freight on rail, to which I know the Minister is committed, investment in high-speed rail, on which we could have an announcement shortly, as the Chair of the Committee said, and, of course, continued investment in the conventional rail network. Exciting as high-speed rail will be, it will not provide solutions for the majority of those using the rail system, which is already heavily stretched in many areas. Also important, particularly in urban areas, is continued investment in quality bus services-not services that pack up at 6 pm and are unavailable in the evening, or which are unavailable on Sundays, but services that provide a genuine alternative to people who wish to avoid using a private car.
I know that the Minister is sympathetic to this point and that he will agree with me, but we need quality public transport that not only provides a journey that people find comfortable, but is convenient and, above all, available at prices that make it attractive as an alternative to private cars and do not penalise those who want to avoid even more private car use and road building.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I am delighted to serve on the Transport Committee under the wise guidance of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman). I congratulate her on leading the Committee in preparing the report.
The hon. Lady is right that, for the first time, we have managed to get some decent statistics about how much money is raised from road users and how much goes back into the road network. The evidence given to the Committee included quite a lot of wide-ranging estimates of the sums of money raised from road users. The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport estimated the figure at £28 billion, the Automobile Association at £46 billion, the National Alliance Against Tolls at between £50 billion and £57 billion, and Her Majesty's Treasury at £32.8 billion. Adding all those estimates, and taking away various taxes and so on, the Committee ended up with its estimate of £48.1 billion for the sum raised from taxes and charges on road users.
Mr. Greg Knight: Is my hon. Friend aware that, even if the British Government were to freeze all taxes on motorists and do nothing else, the situation is about to get worse? Did he know that that bloated and unaccountable organisation called the European Union is about to introduce, as its first direct tax, a petrol tax on people purchasing petrol across the European Union? Experts have estimated that that will add about £3.2 billion to the cost of motoring.
Mr. Hollobone: I am alarmed by the horrifying news that my right hon. Friend brings to the Chamber. It will be greeted with alarm by most of his constituents and certainly by most of mine, especially if the revenue raised were not to be used in this country but instead used to prop up economically unstable countries around the Mediterranean. I am horrified by that news, but I am not surprised. Now that we have signed up to the Lisbon treaty, I am sure that this will be the first of many nightmares of similar proportions.
The Committee looked at how much money was spent on roads and services used by motorists. In his evidence to the Committee, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Gillingham (Paul Clark) said that the figure was about £9 billion, and I would welcome confirmation of that when he responds to the debate. I think that we would all agree, however, that there is a huge disparity between the money raised from motorists and the money spent on the road network. In layman's terms, between 20p and 25p of every £1 of revenue raised goes back into the road network, and the sums involved are extremely large.
A motorist's basic requirement of the road network is that they should be able to drive along at a reasonable speed, without facing too much congestion or too many potholes along the way. This winter, our country has experienced one of the most damaging weather events ever. That was the case for everyone in the country, whether they live in Kettering in Northamptonshire, or Essex or Scotland-
I asked the Secretary of State for Transport at a recent Select Committee evidence session whether he had a central estimate of the cost of the damage caused by potholes across the country. He told me that this was not his responsibility, and that it was the responsibility of the local authorities.
Well, I was shocked. Indeed, I asked the Secretary of State whether he thought that our constituents up and down the country would be shocked by his admission. He said that he did not think so, because this was the responsibility of local authorities. Given that response, I went to the Table Office and tabled a question to the Department for Communities and Local Government, in which I asked what that Department's central estimate was of the cost of the potholes around the country. The reply was that this was a matter not for the DCLG but for the Department for Transport. A few days later, I got a written response to the same question from the Minister of State,
Department for Transport, the right hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan), telling me that his Department had no central estimate of those costs. Most people up and down the country will be shocked that neither the Department for Transport nor the Department for Communities and Local Government has a central estimate of the cost to this country of the pothole damage on our road network.
Thankfully, however, we have the Local Government Association, which has provided a figure of £100 million. That is the best evidence that I have seen of the cost to our country of the pothole damage. That £100 million sounds like an awful lot of money, and indeed it is. When it is compared with the Select Committee's estimate of the £48.1 billion raised from taxes and charges on motorists, however, it is a very small number indeed. I would have thought, given the winter we have just experienced, that there is a perfectly reasonable case for some of that £48.1 billion-perhaps £100 million of it-to be put into our road network to get the pothole situation sorted out.
Another issue is the number of people using our roads. I very much sympathise with the view put forward by the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Sir Peter Soulsby) that if we build more roads, we will end up with more road users. I absolutely understand that and sympathise with that view, but this country faces a very real problem with the number of people living here. Estimates from the Office for National Statistics suggest that our population is going to increase from 61 million today to 70 million by 2029-and there is nothing we can do to prevent that from happening. If net immigration continues at its present rate of about 160,000 net immigrants a year, our population will go above 70 million.
I believe I am right in saying that the Department for Transport's central estimate of the number of vehicles on our roads is that it is going to increase by one third by 2025. Although I am hugely sympathetic to the argument that we should not build more roads because we will end up with more road users, I contend that we are actually going to need more road space, because unless we do, our country is simply going to come to a halt. This is particularly important in areas such as Kettering because under the Government's house building programme, the number of houses in my constituency is set to go up by one third by 2021. The A14 around Kettering and other nearby roads will simply come to a standstill unless more road space is constructed. I am afraid that we are going to have to tackle the issue of needing more roads.
Norman Baker: Is not one way forward to make better use of the existing road network and rather than sweating it for three or four hours a day, to make better use of it all day? We could also take some cognisance of my argument-also made by the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight)-about using road pricing.
I thought that the hon. Gentleman's argument about road pricing was very thoughtful. It may be one of those issues that is hugely unpopular with the public, but it needs to be looked at very carefully if we come to the conclusion that we cannot as a country afford to build more road space. This may be one of the very difficult decisions we will all have to take over the next few years because as a country we
have maxed out on the credit card and do not have the money we would like to spend on these things. I would certainly concede that a difficult decision on road pricing might well have to be taken.
The Road Users' Alliance claims that congestion will rise 37 per cent. in the next 15 years-a very similar estimate to that of the Department for Transport-and it says that UK investment in motorway capacity is among the lowest in Europe. In the 10 years between 1996 to 2006, only Belgium, Austria, Italy and Lithuania built fewer roads, and three of those countries are far smaller than the UK. The alliance also makes the very good point that only 8 per cent. of UK commuters use the train. When we hear the announcement on high-speed rail, perhaps tomorrow, it will be interesting to compare the cost estimate for the high-speed rail scheme against the annual £48 billion we are levying from motorists in taxes and charges. It is roads, not rail, that moves 92 per cent. of passengers and 87 per cent. of freight. Those are the brutal statistics.
Mr. Greg Knight: My hon. Friend is making a very good case, but does he agree that we could do more with our existing road network if the Department for Transport were better at warning motorists of congestion or accidents ahead? I believe that my hon. Friend's seat can be reached via either the M1 or the A1. Why oh why does the Department not ensure that when the M1 is closed, a warning sign is erected that motorists can see before they reach the M1, so that those who have a choice can switch their journeys and travel up the A1 instead? If more advance warning were given, there would be much less congestion on our motorways.
Mr. Hollobone: As always, my right hon. Friend has made an extremely constructive suggestion. Amazingly, the Department for Transport is doing something along those lines around Kettering. At great expense, it is installing information signs advising motorists of just such problems.
Christopher Fraser: I have written to the Highways Agency about signage, pointing out that it is impossible to obtain accurate information about where a problem lies because only road numbers, as opposed to road and city names, can be put on the signs owing to shortage of space. Is that not nonsense, given all the other information that the agency is able to give us on the roads?
Mr. Hollobone: It is indeed nonsense. I am pleased that my hon. Friend has raised that point today, given that the roads Minister is present, and I hope that the Minister will be able to respond to it when he winds up the debate.
Let me give some other interesting statistics. Motorists pay 4p a mile to the Treasury, while rail travellers receive a subsidy of 21p a mile. Between 1998 and 2008 the major road network grew by 1 per cent., but had to cope with traffic growth of almost 10 per cent. Our country's population is growing at an unprecedented rate, and most people do not realise that. Our roads are crumbling at an unprecedented rate, but people do realise that, because they find it embarrassing to return to the United Kingdom from other European countries and see the appalling state of our local road network. We, as a country, must do something about that.
In comparison with the revenue raised from motorists in taxes and charges, the bill for the repair of the potholes is not that great, but it is clear to me that local authorities cannot afford to carry out the repairs themselves. This year, central Government should grant an emergency fund to local authorities throughout the country so that our local roads can be fixed. Ministers in whichever Department is involved, the Department for Transport or the Department for Communities and Local Government, should stand up and take a lead. They should say, "The Government are going to fix this problem, because our country deserves better than this." Motorists up and down the land who are already paying a huge amount of money to Her Majesty's Treasury would be extremely glad if the Government took that bold and innovative step.
Christopher Fraser (South-West Norfolk) (Con): I want to make two or three specific points about the problems that we face in Norfolk. I have said in the House before, and am not embarrassed to say again, that Norfolk is the only county in England without a carriageway linking it to a national trunk road network. If Norfolk is to play its part in the economic success of our nation as we pull out of recession, it is incumbent on the Government to ensure that the upgrade of the A11 is carried out as soon as possible. We have fought for that upgrade for many years, because without it Norfolk will continue to suffer disproportionately.
Mr. Greg Knight: Is not one of the problems in Norfolk the fact that, for whatever reason, the council has hatched out roads that are being constructed as three-lane roads, to allow for a middle overtaking lane, only as two-lane roads?
Christopher Fraser: Compounding the problem that my right hon. Friend mentions is the fact that Norfolk has struggled over the years to get a roads infrastructure that is fit for purpose. I share the ends of the A14 with my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone)-he has the other one. Whether Norfolk is able to put forward a plan for two or three lanes, the consequence of its endeavours so far is that the Government have not followed the proposals with the money and the initiative. That is where the main problem lies.
The issue of road pricing in Norfolk is somewhat anathema to us, because if we do not have the roads infrastructure there is nothing that can be priced or taxed. It is a highly rural county and people in my constituency, which covers more than 1,200 square miles, invariably use the car as a necessity, not a luxury.
Mr. John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): On that basis, will the hon. Gentleman accept that under a road-pricing scheme proposed by the Liberal Democrats his constituents would be better off when they used their car?
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