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House of Lords

Tuesday, 24th January 1995.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwark.

Newbury Bypass

The Earl of Carnarvon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why, after full public consultation and two public inquiries, the Secretary of State for Transport has delayed the construction of the A.34 western bypass at Newbury.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen): My Lords, in view of the unusual degree of continuing public interest in this road scheme, the Secretary of State for Transport wishes to be quite sure that the proposed bypass is the right solution. Therefore, he has suspended progress on the scheme and asked the Highways Agency to look again at the plans for the bypass, to explore other options and to report back.

The Earl of Carnarvon: My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for that somewhat innocuous Answer. Is he aware that the A.34 for three-and-a-half miles between Tothill and Newbury is the only single carriageway between the south of Spain and Scotland? Is he further aware of the crucial significance of that route to the economy of the south east, particularly the ports of Southampton, Newhaven and Portsmouth? Will he draw the worry of the people of that area to the attention of the Secretary of State, who, I hope, will change as soon as possible his damaging decision?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, we recognise the significance of the route and the problems that traffic congestion causes in the Newbury area. That is why we have put a great deal of work into addressing the problem. But we want to be sure that we have the right solution to address that difficult problem.

Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the Secretary of State's decision was taken on the back of the report from the Standing Advisory Committee for Trunk Road Assessment on traffic generation? Will he further confirm that that report emphasised traffic generation in the case of urban schemes, motor widening and estuarial crossings and did not blame the building of bypasses for traffic generation? Therefore, is it not the case that that need not have been a factor in the decision made by the Secretary of State? Does he agree that traffic flows on that piece of road are nearly as high as they are on the nearby six-lane M.4 and that therefore, whether or not any traffic is generated, this bypass is needed now? Will he accept that it was probably needed 10 years ago and will certainly be needed in the future?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the conclusions of the SACTRA Report were not the reason for the Secretary

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of State's decision to put the scheme on hold pending further review. We welcome the SACTRA Report. It portrayed the theme of traffic generation through extra road building. We shall take the conclusions of that report into account when looking at future road building schemes.

Lord Allenby of Megiddo: My Lords, with regard to the Department of the Environment's air quality management scheme, can the Minister explain how Newbury, which has a serious pollution problem already caused especially by the high concentration of heavy goods vehicles in the congested traffic area, can meet the clean air standards without this very important bypass?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, we do not deny the problems that exist in terms of congestion on this important piece of road. But we want to make sure that the right solution is developed for Newbury. That is why we shall look again at all practical options.

Lord Roskill: My Lords, can the noble Viscount tell the House how he reconciles that decision with the contents of a letter dated as recently as 31st October 1994 from Mr. Watts, the Minister for Railways and Roads, to the chairman of the Newbury Bypass Supporters' Association? He wrote:

    "I am quite satisfied that the bypass is urgently needed ... I can see no grounds for further delaying this much needed scheme".

May I add, as a lifelong resident in the village of Newtown that I am dismayed by what is happening? Newtown is bisected by the A.34 in its present form and is a village hopelessly and sadly damaged, as is the neighbouring village of Burghclere. A rising out of the supplementary Question of the noble Earl, will the Minister say whether the Government have taken into account in their costings the relative cost of building this bypass and the vast cost to industry of five-mile queues of lorries south of Newbury trying to go north from the ports and another five-mile queue of lorries to the north of Newbury trying to go south to the ports?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I note the details of the letter which was read out by the noble and learned Lord. In the ultimate eventuality it is for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport, as the proposer of any new road scheme, to have the final decision on whether or not to go ahead. This project has not been cancelled. It has been suspended but the orders are still current. As I mentioned earlier, the Secretary of State has asked the Highways Agency to review all practical options in order to address this very difficult situation of traffic congestion in the Newbury area.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that in the view of many of us his original Answer was far from innocuous? Will he indicate, by giving us a definite date, how soon a decision will be announced and the appalling delays, to which the noble Earl and others referred, obviated?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I am not in a position to give my noble friend the answer he requires. However, my right honourable friend the Secretary of

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State said that he expects to be able to make an announcement in time for the publication of the road scheme starts for the 1996-97 year. I recognise the opinions expressed in the House this afternoon and will convey them to my right honourable friend.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I welcome the Government's reassessment of the benefit of road building generally, but will the Minister accept that to block all roads is as illogical as promoting road building as the only solution to public transport problems? Will he accept also that those concerned about pollution arising from major road building are also concerned about pollution in towns?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness. An efficient trunk road network is vital to the economic and environmental well being of the country. Therefore, blocking all road schemes is not the answer to any of these problems.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that the Government's decision to delay this bypass has been met in the area with amazement and suspicion, bearing in mind that the public inquiries have been held and it is now around 15 years since the scheme was first embarked upon? Cannot the Minister tell the House in a little more detail why the delay occurred? Is it because the present route is not satisfactory? Is it the view of the Government that the route should be shifted from the west of Newbury to the east of Newbury? That is worrying many people and they are entitled to know what government thinking is on this problem.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the Government are fully aware of the anxieties of the people of Newbury. But they are aware also of the anxieties of those who oppose the scheme. We do not hold a firm view as to alternative proposals. However, we shall be looking at all practical options to give the Secretary of State the information that he needs to make sure that the right solution is put forward for the people of Newbury.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, what consultations were undertaken by the Secretary of State before he engaged in this damaging change of mind? Is it not a fact that he forgot to consult the Minister for roads in relation to this matter until three days before he made his announcement? Is it right that he made a superficial visit to the area but did not engage in any consultation with local authorities, who were in favour of the scheme, before making the announcement? Meanwhile, is it not correct that the damage to the environment will continue now for several years without any hope of relief and that all the criteria set out by the inspectorate and accepted by the inspector were met? Why did the Secretary of State behave in this absurd way?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I stated that even after going through the statutory process, after the public inquiries, ultimately the decision to proceed with a road scheme such as this is one for my right

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honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport. He visited the site; but he took into consideration all the issues and that was the basis for his decision to suspend the scheme for the time being.

Religious Worship in Schools

2.47 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they intend to change the law requiring daily religious worship in schools.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have no plans to change the law. The daily act of collective worship helps to establish a positive ethos in a school and makes an important contribution to pupils' spiritual and moral development. The existing legal requirements give schools considerable flexibility in the organisation and content of collective worship.

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