First, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Jeffrey Archer) for his kind remarks. It is very useful that the House should from time to time discuss the Government's plans for the transport infrastructure of particular regions and localities. I am, therefore, grateful that my hon. Friend the Member for Louth should have initiated this short but important debate.
My hon. Friend has not only made clear his concern about the economic contribution that an improved communication system can make for South Humberside, but he has been pressing on myself and my right hon. Friends the importance of the contribution that individual road schemes can make to the improvement of the local environment.
I recall with pleasure the visit which I made to Louth earlier this year.
At this particular time discussions about new road schemes may seem rather inappropriate. However, no matter what happens with the present fuel crisis, it is clear that our industry and, indeed, we as individuals will have to face increasing fuel costs, and this makes it even more important that our road system should be as effective and economical in terms of its operational costs as possible.
As a country we have been trying to make up lost time and to provide an effective national main route system. Our motorway network is now developing and making a useful economic contribution by holding down transport costs. It is also now bringing many of our more remote and sometimes less prosperous regions closer to their markets and opening them up for the development of new industry and tourism. Some localities have been left behind in the development of communications, and the present Government have felt particular concern about the need for improved roads to serve East Anglia and Humberside.
I should like to meet the points made by my hon. Friend and the helpful contribution from the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) by setting out the Government's plans for the development of the road network on South Humberside and the likely timetable for the completion of the schemes within that programme. I stress the word "likely" because, as the House knows, public inquiries and statutory procedures can expand or contract the time of construction, as can the weather.
I should like to draw attention to two of the Government's objectives announced in June 1971 for the development of the strategic trunk road network. One was to promote economic growth by connecting the more remote regions to the network, and the other was to improve the routes to our main ports. Later, in March 1972, we decided to accelerate work to improve routes leading to the main East Coast ports, where our trade with the Common Market was significant and growing. The route to Hull on North Humberside was one such route chosen for acceleration.
At an earlier stage the Government acted to stop the estuary continuing as a barrier to a closer association and development of the two banks of the Humber. The Humber Bridge will extend the hinterland for Hull, Grimsby and Immingham, so that the whole of both the north and south banks will benefit when the bridge opens. I am advised by the Humber Bridge Board that this opening is now planned for 1977.
Our strategic network will provide for parallel connections over the shortest distance for both North and South Humberside. I think hon. Members would have to admit that the M62 and M18/M180 routes will represent a very generous provision, offering particularly high-standard connections to the A1 and M1 and to the developing east—west links across the country, which have been neglected by all administrations. Our aim is to open these direct routes as soon as possible. This will allow local industry to exploit the opportunities created by the opening of the Humber Bridge and of this improved communication.
I should like shortly to come to the individual schemes within the direct route to Grimsby and Immingham along South Humberside. However, first I ought to indicate why an east-west connection has been preferred to the provision, which has been suggested in some quarters, of a longer new high-standard route across Lincolnshire to join the M1 or Al further to the south. I know that the economic planning councils for both Yorkshire and Humberside and the East Midlands have suggested that the A15 and A46 should be improved as far as Newark. Frankly, I think this would have meant too great a dispersal of the scarce resources within the road programme. We must be concerned to concentrate heavy vehicle traffic on high-standard routes away from our towns, villages and people's homes as far as it is possible. To go back on the priority that we are giving to the M18/M180 route in favour of dispersing traffic between the Al8 and the A15 routes would only inflict the intrusion of heavy vehicles on more people.
The A18 is certainly inadequate at present. Except for stretches of dual carriageway near Grimsby and Scunthorpe, it is a single carriageway route where heavy traffic can soon create bottlenecks. There is congestion particularly at Kedby Bridge, in Scunthorpe itself, in Brigg and in the villages of Great Limber and Melton Ross. Brigg, of course, also has to cope with north-south traffic on the A15. So the M180 from Brigg to Thorne and the improvements in the A18 corridor to the east beyond Brigg to Grimsby will create a good standard spine road through South Humberside. This spine will be connected to the Humber Bridge by another spur road.
Looking now at the individual schemes that make up this network, I confirm the timetable for preparation and construction in so far as I can do so in the light of the constraints I have mentioned. From the Brigg bypass to the Humber Bridge, a new route will be ready by the time the bridge is open. To the west, the section of the M18 around Thorne is already open to traffic. The links to the M62 should be ready in 1975, and the connection to the A1(M) at Doncaster should be completed in 1977. For the M180 itself, the three sections from Thorne to Brigg bypass should be ready in 1977. This, too, will give a continuous connection from Hull across the bridge to the north-south network at Doncaster and to the M1 east of Sheffield.
The main concern of my hon. Friend and the right hon. Member is about the progress with the M180 scheme from Brigg eastwards. I know they are under very reasonable pressure from the Grimsby Chamber of Commerce and Shipping about this issue. The views of the Yorkshire and Humberside Development Association have been mentioned. I recognise, too, that improvements of the route beyond Brigg will help the development of local industry. I gather also that the Chamber of Commerce is having a look at employment prospects for the area, and it naturally wants to be assured about the availability of improved road links.
The situation is that our consultants have been examining alternative routes for a new high-standard road to Grimsby. Their report should be available very soon. Until recently, the preferred alternative would have been developed in confidence and a draft order published without public consultation, leaving any planning issues to be resolved by way of a public inquiry.
Now, reflecting the Government's concern to allow local people to have a greater say in the planning of road schemes, we have introduced public participation procedures which will mean that the feasible alternatives for a new route in the A18 corridor to Grimsby will be published for the public and local authorities to express their views. This is in line with the circular which my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State issued in July this year. I quite accept that this procedure in itself will mean a little time during which planning work is halted. This is one of the penalties we have to pay. However, I expect that having a well-known and, hopefully, well-supported line for a route will mean that later objections will be fairly limited. Subject to public reaction which is always important, we hope to have a preferred route selected for the detailed design work to be carried forward by next autumn.
The route should then, if the statutory procedures go as planned—I must enter a caveat here because we cannot anticipate them—be ready for construction in 1977 and ready for use two years later, that is, in 1979. This would be in line with previous undertakings. The completion would be two years after the Humber Bridge opens and not three years, the period which may have been circulating locally. That is the latest information. Depending on public reaction, we may be able to bring forward that time, or, unfortunately, it may have to be extended. Much depends on the reaction that we get in the next year.
Obviously, the planning of the spur road to Immingham must be related to the preferred route for the A18 improvements. However, I can assure hon. Members that no time will be lost in completing this scheme also. I would also like to draw attention to the schemes on the A160 between South Killing-holme and Manby for a dual carriageway improvement; this will soon be completed.
I am convinced that the relative priorities within the South Humberside programme are well balanced. Where the traffic will be heavier—that is, to the west—the schemes will be completed first so that the benefits for the community are maximised.
To sum up, I assure both my hon. Friend and the right hon. Gentleman that there has been, and there will be, no delay for the trunk road schemes in South Humberside. The value of the schemes in hand from the east of Thorne is well over £50 million, not to mention the cost of the loan for the bridge, and all this money is to be spent before 1980. Rather than engage in the administrative bother and delay of changing the status of roads, we have paid a 100 per cent. grant on some principal road schemes also, as my hon. Friend and the right hon. Gentleman know.
I should point out that when the roads programme for 1974–75 was cut as part of the economies in public expenditure announced last May, the road schemes in this locality were not affected. None was deferred, and work is proceeding on the preparation for the improvements in the A18 corridor from Brigg towards Grimsby as fast as possible, and from this will follow work on the Immingham spur.
I have been into this myself in considerable detail, and I assure the House that at the moment I see no way of speeding up the timetable for these schemes if we are both to fulfil our statutory obligation to respect the rights of individuals and to allow members of the public the opportunity which they should have—this is something about which I feel strongly—to comment on alternative proposals. Roads are very expensive to build and have a great impact on the local environment, and that is a price that we have to pay—and should be prepared to pay—to ensure that local people, who, after all, will have to live with these roads for a long time, have a say in the choice of route at the earliest possible stage.
My right hon. Friends and I, and, indeed, my whole Department, are seized of the importance of the new road network that is needed for the South Humberside area. The schemes have all the necessary priorities, and I hope that, because of the dates that I have put forward as realistically as I can tonight, and with the firm assurance that my right hon. Friends and I will be keeping an eye on these schemes because we realise the importance of them once the bridge is open, my hon. Friend and the right hon. Gentleman will feel that their areas are far from being neglected but are beginning to share the benefits of first-class road communications.