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Lord Glenamara: My Lords, before the noble Lord was born I made a speech in the other House, when Dr. Beeching was closing the railways, advocating the dualling of the A.66. I have advocated this all the time I have been here. That is a very long time.
What the noble Baroness cannot deny is that when we were in government we started the job. I am sure the whole House will agree that we should not leave the job half completed. The noble Lord, Lord Hothfield, pointed out the five tests that are being used to determine priorities for the trunk road review. I do not want to reiterate them. As I have already mentioned, it is an unusual stretch of road because it is essentially a single homogenous length of road. If it is right to dual it in part, it is right to dual the whole thing, because what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
What we currently have is a long length of road, sections of which are dualled and sections of which are singled in an apparently arbitrary manner. If one is travelling along the section Winderwath, Temple Sowerby, Kirkby Thore, Crackenthorpe, or Sandford, Warcop or Flitholme, or again in that section in Richmondshire, one is statistically at least three times more likely to be killed in a car crash than one is on some of the other sections, such as the Appleby bypass, or the area around Brough and up on to Stainmore, or outside Penrith up to the Countess's Pillar. It cannot be right that it should be government policy to acquiesce in this curious capricious form of risk that drivers and users of this road are going through day on day.
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the temptations that have been offered to me in tonight's debate have been myriad and varied. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hothfield, as other speakers have done, perhaps most of all for giving me the opportunity to speak on a subject of which I have some knowledge and have some personal responsibility in departmental terms. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, was kind enough to say that the House was lucky to have me here as I am Minister with responsibility for roads. I feel quite lucky to be answering at the Dispatch Box on a subject for which I have some responsibility, which is not always my experience in this House.
Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, I do not know the road well from having driven along it. I do not think I have ever been along it in my life. But I have to say that I feel as if I know it quite well not only from this evening's debate and from the contributions made by noble Lords who are the cognoscenti as far as the road is concerned but also from the experience I have had in looking at the schemes on the A.66 that are included in the roads programme which we are currently reviewing; in particular, the Temple Sowerby bypass and Winderwath improvement. The review has been an open exercise. It has involved regional consultation. I have offered meetings to every single MP in England on a regional basis to present to them the results from the Government Office and the Highways Agency as regards the roads review consultation as well as on the integrated transport policy consultation. I also heard the views of local Members of Parliament. I have also been in correspondence with Dr. Young and heard of his own personal tragedy, as well as of the long-standing campaign which he has been involved in for the bypass.
So I do feel as though I know well the scheme and the problems of this particular route. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, and others who made the point about piecemeal improvements that it is important that we try to look strategically at routes and that in future we do not make some of the mistakes of the past by doing things in a piecemeal fashion. That has implications and often consequences that are not foreseen.
Having said that, I shall now revert to the well-trained Minister mode that my noble friend believes that I should abjure. I cannot give an undertaking for the wholesale dualling of the route. Even in the most grandiose road-building programmes of the previous government, that has not been put forward before as a
It would be wrong for me to anticipate individual scheme decisions in tonight's debate. I recognise that problems can be caused--and that has been illustrated tonight--by a change in quality and standard between single and dual carriageways on a particular stretch of road. There is also the provision of short stretches of dualling on a single stretch of carriageway. That can be extremely effective. It used to be called "anti-frustration dualling" because of the accident rate on long stretches of single carriageway where there were no opportunities whatsoever for overtaking. The accident rate was extremely bad. We have seen, particularly from experience on the A.1, that that kind of dualling can be effective. We also looked at situations where villages and communities need, for their safety and their environment, a bypass when they are bisected by a trunk road route. So I do not believe that we should say that the only answer is dualling every single stretch of single carriageway on every trunk road in the country. That is not possible, and not only on economic grounds.
Tonight it has sounded as though it would be a very easy task to be a roads Minister if only one had the money to give everyone what they wanted. It would not be an easy task because there are other considerations. We cannot simply build our way out of our problems. We know of the problems of increasing traffic, congestion and pollution. They cannot be kept pace with simply by the provision of extra road space.
In addition, we have to look at schemes in the round. The noble Lord, Lord Hothfield, said that I should be reassured because his sister-in-law, who normally protested about roads, had not protested about this one. I would not wish to sound cynical, but having had a year and a bit as roads Minister, I have discovered that there are a number of people who find it possible to be against the roads programme in general and to make an exception for the individual scheme about which they have knowledge and to which they are deeply committed. I would not say to the right reverend Prelate that it is rather like St. Augustine and chastity. Such people tend to feel that the roads programme should have no further investment after their bypass has been produced.
There are balances even in the scheme about which noble Lords have shown so much concern tonight. The correspondence that I have received has not been wholly in favour of dualling the whole route. Environmental concerns have been raised.
I now return to the safety issues, which are the closest to my heart as I am Minister for road safety as well as Minister for roads. That means that I see letters from bereaved families and from Members of Parliament concerned at the accident rate on a particular stretch of road. I receive letters from coroners pointing out the danger of individual stretches of road. I have no doubt
But the answers to safety problems are not only in terms of large-scale improvements or bypasses. The A.66 is an area of great concern. It has been pointed out by many noble Lords that the accident figures for that road are very worrying. Although the rate of accidents on the single carriageway is only slightly higher than the national average, the severity of those accidents is much higher than on comparable roads. There have been 70 fatal accidents since 1993, the most recent being on Monday of this week on a single carriageway in Cumbria. So I am very conscious of the need to make improvements.
The Highways Agency has already undertaken a number of improvements at accident blackspots; for example, by providing new signs and lines and using red-surfacing. They are techniques that have been shown to be extremely effective. It is important that we make sure that we bring in all possible measures. They are not necessarily very expensive or very high-tech. This month the agency is introducing signs advising motorists on the safety record of the A.66 on a trial basis and the results will be monitored.
At the Warcop and Sandford junctions arrangements have been made for a series of small safety schemes, including the provision of new studs and marker posts. This work is to be carried out shortly. I can also tell the House that later this month the Highways Agency will be announcing the preferred routes for two short stretches of proposed dualling from Greta Bridge to Dyson Lane and from Scotch Corner to Melsonbury crossroads. We are at the point of putting forward preferred routes and there are statutory processes that have to be gone through. These areas have been highlighted as causing particular problems. I hope that we can make some progress.
By providing sections of dual carriageway at locations where there are particular accident problems and by clear signing and lining on the remaining sections of single carriageway, we can improve the overall safety of the route. That is what we are aiming to do.
As I have said, the roads review is considering two proposals for major infrastructure work on sections of the A.66, the Temple Sowerby dual carriageway bypass and the Stainburn and Great Clifton bypass, which is in Cumbria and is not part of the section of road that we are considering tonight. I hope that we shall be able to make announcements on those bypasses when we make the roads review announcement later this year.
Safety on the A.66 emerged as one of the major regional concerns in our consultation, just as it emerged as the major concern of your Lordships. Our objective is to produce from the roads review a targeted improvement programme which supports our integrated transport strategy and delivers clear benefits against the five criteria to which the noble Lord, Lord Hothfield, referred. We also envisage setting in hand work to develop strategies to address other priority problems on
As I said earlier, decisions on road investment are never easy and, sooner or later, choices have to be made about relative priorities. As the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, said, I have not heard from all the Cumbrian Peers available tonight, but I do know that other schemes in other areas of the country have as strong and passionate support as the schemes that would improve the A.66. I know from the consultation process that there is a wide spectrum of views about almost every single scheme in the programme and about the relative priorities of investing in roads as against in other forms of transport, let alone in other forms of public expenditure. These are not simple decisions.
In my experience, every road scheme has its detractors as well as its supporters, but we are determined that the investment programme on which we eventually decide should reflect the importance that this Government attach to safety. In my consideration, and that of my colleagues, of the proposals that we are reviewing at the moment, the strong feelings expressed tonight about the A.66 will be fully weighed.
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