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To summarise on the whole question of the Statement and the issues under consideration today, I can do no better than refer to the BBC Radio 4 reporter who said, on handing back to the studio this morning following his consideration of the proposed Roads Review: "So it's jams tomorrow, John". I am sure that we shall receive excellent answers from the Minister. Once again, I warmly congratulate him on his promotion and I look forward to hearing his reply.
Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, perhaps I may follow the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, in welcoming the noble Lord to the Front Benches. If I may say so, he has a rather hard act to follow. However, I am sure that he will do it with his customary elegance and ability. I apologise for missing the first few words of the Statement. I had in fact read it, so I was aware of the content. I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement and for giving us just a little time to consider our response.
In general, from these Benches we welcome the Statement as a beginning of the implementation of some of the proposals in the transport White Paper relating to major road building and various other aspects which this Statement covers. We also welcome in principle the reduction in major schemes. I wonder, however, whether the Minister can tell us whether the villages which are to lose their bypasses are to be included on the list of 150 traffic management schemes and schemes for reduction of the impact of traffic announced during the Statement on the transport White Paper.
There is also some doubt as to the number of schemes that have been axed. Will the Minister acknowledge that schemes "kept under consideration", including the 57 that are to be considered by the regional planning conferences, cost money during the period of consideration? Who will finance that cost? That is especially important because the regional planning conferences have not previously been the major authorities for carrying forward road schemes. That has been the job of the Highways Authority. It is an important shift which needs to be followed by some sort of financial support.
The same question applies to the seven schemes that are to be "progressed pending final decision", and the 19 that have been delegated to local authorities. In fact, only 18 schemes on the core network have been categorically withdrawn. Can the Minister confirm that figure, which I calculated in rather a hurry?
There is useful material in the full report about sharing out road space and the linkage between road building and other solutions to improve access and safety. There is also the welcome promise of quieter road surfaces, local management of some major roads, the principle of the seven-year investment programme, the end of the wish-list approach and the co-operation between Railtrack and the Highways Agency.
I turn to the widening of the M.25 between junctions 12 and 15. Can the Minister tell us whether there is any specific provision for public transport vehicles in the widening, which we oppose? Can he also tell us when the widened section will once again become congested? In other words, how long is the window of opportunity? I have been told that it might be as little as 10 years. In my experience on the Highways Authority, 10 years is not much time to start reorganising the surrounding network.
Finally, does the Minister accept that a Statement plus the opportunity to put questions is not an adequate method of providing parliamentary scrutiny, particularly when we are talking about a major change in government policy? The result is to leave the main scrutiny to the media and not the politicians and I submit that that is not the best way to get round the problem.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, first I thank the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, for his congratulations on my change of status. I believe he knows that there was a time when his constant assertions of my suitability for preferment could be seriously counterproductive. I was wrong in that; the noble Lord has far more influence in Downing Street than many of us on this side of the House. I am deeply impressed. I am further impressed with his sudden conversion into a transport expert, even though his focus may be on areas less than 500 yards from the House. Nevertheless, his expertise is evident and I thank him and the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, for their welcome for at least aspects of the Statement.
The Statement indicates a strategic approach. It is shifting concentration onto trunk routes and within the expenditure on trunk routes it is shifting towards improving the existing network, while still maintaining a clearly focused core of schemes with which we need to go ahead in our improvement programme.
In addition, noble Lords may not have picked up from the Statement that we shall be giving to the Highways Agency much more of a management than a road-building role. That will be part of the outcome of the studies which the noble Baroness mentioned, and other measures than road-building to solve some of the problems which we are not tackling directly. It places the whole of our roads programme in a broader integrated transport strategy. Solutions to some of the problems at least will not be road-building solutions.
The noble Baroness asked me about the figures. Compared with what we are referring to as a wish-list which we inherited without a timescale and without clear budgeting, we now have a budgeted programme, all of which will be started within the next seven years.
The noble Lord and the noble Baroness raised the question of charging. I referred in the Statement to the continuing charge at the Dartford Tunnel. As we said in last week's White Paper, we intend to introduce legislation to permit charging road users. We anticipate that although early schemes may be primarily in urban areas, schemes may also be developed on trunk roads and motorways, either on a self-standing basis or jointly with local authorities. We believe that charging schemes can help to meet transport and environmental objectives in both urban and rural areas by relieving congestion and providing a guaranteed income stream. There are no further announcements in relation to tolling in the Statement.
The noble Baroness also asked about the timescale of studies. I cannot give a definitive answer as to when all the studies will be complete, some will take longer than others. Those which are in our core programme can be started within the period to which I referred. The noble Lord raised the question of the M.1 and M.6 studies, where we are looking not only at road solutions but also other solutions and transfers of freight and traffic. They will take some time because they are extremely complex studies.
Both Opposition spokespeople referred to the M.25 and to the Deputy Prime Minister's previous rejection of widening of the M.25. I do not use such colourful language as my right honourable friend, but it would be a non-solution to widen the M.25 in all the places proposed and it would have severe environmental effects. The area of the scheme in which we are extending the M.25 has some 200,000 users per day. Traffic management schemes have already been introduced under the previous regime. They have partly improved the problem, but they have not resolved it. There is no other solution than to extend the M.25 in that limited area. We intend to do so. The noble Baroness asked about public service transport, there is no implication of dedicated routes in the solution. Any such solution would require further consideration of the M.25 as a whole.
Both noble spokespeople referred to the bypasses programme. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, suggested that there was a massive cut in the bypasses programme. There is a change of emphasis, a shift of expenditure from bypasses to maintenance which will benefit a wider range of road users. But it would be wrong to say that this is a massive cut-back on bypasses. There are 15 bypass schemes in the targeted programme of improvements, and there are other schemes which have partial bypass effects. An additional three will be progressed up to starting point. There are 12 on hold, one will be withdrawn and there are nine bypass schemes in the pre-existing programme which are to be de-trunked. Bypass provision plays a major part in our strategy.
The noble Lord also asked about traffic lights and Lambeth Bridge. I understand his preoccupation with that area, but I must say that it is not part of the trunk road programme and therefore plays no part in the Statement today. Anyway, the responsibility for London roads will shortly, subject to the decision of the House, pass to the Greater London authority.
The noble Lord also asked about the timing on regional centres. Proposals still require some development, but the indications are good. The roads review report identifies significant benefits from the centres on traffic management, strategic traffic control, travel information and emergency assistance. We hope to bring proposals forward soon, certainly within the next two years.
The noble Baroness concluded by asking whether this was the best time to have a debate on these issues. I have no doubt that noble Lords, subject to the normal procedures, will wish to raise transport and road issues at subsequent stages. However, we felt that as soon as the decisions had been made we ought to inform Parliament and the public and we have done so in the announcement made by my right honourable friend today.
I have dealt with most of the questions. I should like to finish by paying tribute to my noble friend Lady Hayman. Not only has she presented the whole of the enormous portfolio of the DETR to this House, but she has also personally been involved in all of those decisions. I say that not to deny my own responsibility for them, but to indicate the degree of executive responsibility that she carried. She looked at all the schemes in the pre-existing programme and reached those conclusions. It has been a massive task and the Government and the whole House are grateful to her.
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, I congratulate the Government on cracking an extremely hard nut. I recall the saga of the limes at Hampton Court. It took 20 years and goodness knows how many Ministers to resolve the matter before they were ultimately replanted. The same can be said of the A.303 by Stonehenge. I am delighted with the announcement that there is to be a cut-and-cover solution to that specific section. However, I observed too that the spin put on the Statement, and indeed the White Paper, was that the Government's new policy was realistic. There will be a lot of disappointed people throughout the country who have been relying on the bypasses mentioned by both my noble friend and the noble Baroness on the Liberal Democrat Benches. They will not find the plan realistic and it is no solution if we cannot get down a quieter road.
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