With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement about priority routes in London. In January, my Department published consultation proposals and requested comments by 31 March on a red route network. About 12,500 copies of the consultation document were distributed and just over 1,200 responses received. I have considered those and I am now ready to announce the decisions.
The pilot scheme in north and east London, which started 18 months ago, is already proving the enormous value of red routes in bringing better management to London's strategic traffic routes. Among the most significant benefits are that overall journey times have improved by 25 per cent., bus journey times have reduced by more than 10 per cent. and reliability increased by a third, so that more people are using the buses and, indeed, London Transport expects to introduce an express service on the pilot route next month. Of particular significance is the fact that road casualities fell by more than 200 in 1991, a fall of some 36 per cent. compared with about 12 per cent. in London as a whole. Contrary to much ill-informed comment, far from there being less parking available, there are now 620 free legal parking spaces on the route where none existed before.
In the light of that experience, I am laying an order before the House today which will designate some 300 miles of red routes throughout the capital. The first of those should be in operation by the end of next year. There will, of course, be full provision for consultation at the various stages of the design and implementation of the network.
Many reactions to the consultation exercise, notably from London Transport, pointed out that the proposed network was based on primary routes. Although those are the most suitable for longer distance traffic, they exclude some roads which carry the heaviest flows of buses. In west London, for example, the primary routes are the M4, A4 and A40, but the most important route for buses is the Uxbridge road, which links all the main shopping centres. I believe that we can greatly assist the movement of public transport in areas such as that. I shall therefore be consulting on the designation of further priority routes.
I have also decided to make significant changes to the proposals for the centre of London. The main objectives there are, again, rather different from those of the primary route network. We are seeking to help the movement of buses and local commercial traffic rather than to serve longer distance movements. I shall therefore be consulting on this central network having regard to the special characteristics of the area. In the meantime, I shall designate only the inner ring road, which roughly encompasses the area around the main railway stations, with one addition. Tower bridge, which forms part of the inner ring road, has a weight restriction on it and we need an alternative route, so I am also designating a route via London bridge.
Elsewhere, the red route network will be as proposed in the consultation document, except the following roads which I am not including: the A22 Godstone road, up to Purley cross, the A40 Holland Park avenue, Notting Hill Gate and Bayswater road, the A110 and A 104, from the Cambridge road to the North Circular, the A243 Leatherhead road, up to the A3, the A304 and A308 Fulham road, the A219 Putney hill and Putney High street, and the A307 Kew road, alongside Kew gardens. I have arranged for maps and schedules to be available in the Library showing the routes to be designated, and I have, of course, written to all London Members.
This whole exercise has shown that red route measures are flexible and bring positive benefits to all concerned —residents and motorists, pedestrians and cyclists, bus users, shoppers, and local businesses. I am confident that red routes will work across London as a whole and that support for them will be even more widespread when they begin to take effect.
The Minister alleges that red routes have brought positive benefits to various groups, particularly local businesses. Will he tell the House why a survey by Islington council shows that 80 per cent. of businesses have lost custom since the introduction of the pilot study? Will he explain why the Islington chamber of commerce has reported that 20 per cent. of local businesses on the local red route claim to have lost more than half their trade since its introduction? Have not the Government already done enough damage to small business prospects without adding to their difficulties?
Has the Minister considered the safety implications of red routes, particularly in residential areas? Surely the policy on vehicle numbers and speed runs directly contrary to his professed concern for road safety, particularly for pedestrians, cyclists and children. Will the Minister assure us that there will be traffic calming measures, funded by his Department, particularly in residential roads alongside red routes?
The Minister claimed that more people are using buses and that reliability has increased since the pilot scheme was introduced. Will he therefore explain why, in paragraph 2 of its response, London Buses Ltd. claimed:
The proposals offer no benefits to bus services in many areas."?
In paragraph 3, London Buses went on to state:
There is a real danger that improved traffic flow on roads in the Priority Route Network will attract more vehicles onto these and other roads.
Attracting more vehicles, particularly motor cars, seems to be the result of further widening the scheme. One of the reasons why red routes have been dropped in the centre of London is the likely adverse impact on bus services. If the Minister and his Department were really serious about encouraging bus patronage, he would be proposing expenditure on bus lanes, bus priority measures at traffic lights, and targeted parking enforcement at bus stops and along bus routes, all of which would bring a better return than the measures that he has so far announced.
On his appointment, the Minister made some encouraging noises about co-ordination. Will he accept from me that he would get a better response from London Members if he brought forward better measures to tackle the city's chronic transport congestion rather than an inadequate and short-sighted scheme which will lead to more cars, more lorries and more pollution?
I think that I can answer all the hon. Gentleman's points. On the point about business, it is true that Islington produced some figures on business which showed, not entirely surprisingly, that there had been some drop in business in the past year among shopkeepers in Islington. The hon. Gentleman is probably aware, however, that the research conducted by the Department to determine business improvement of deterioration was conducted on the most sensible basis of all—a simple survey of patronage. The hon. Gentleman may also be aware that the greatest drop in patronage occurred in that section of the proposed red route which Islington council, for reasons of its own, chose not to implement as a red route.
The hon. Gentleman may be aware, too, that the second greatest reduction in patronage occurred on a section of the red route where we had provided free parking spaces where absolutely none had existed before. There is no evidence whatever of loss of patronage. I suspect that in due course the traders of Islington will come to see that that is entirely correct.
The hon. Gentleman talked about safety. A couple of weeks ago in the House the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) made the extraordinary suggestion that the reason why there had been such a spectacular reduction in accidents on the red routes was that traffic speeds had become so great that people were scared stiff of going near the road. That seemed to be the most extraordinary scraping of the barrel.
The truth is that because red routes manage traffic sensibly it is possible to combine modest improvements in speed—from 11 to 14 miles per hour approximately, which would not exactly worry Nigel Mansell—
or, indeed, my BMW—with significant reductions in accidents.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned traffic calming measures. On the pilot route, the Department deliberately experimented with all the available traffic calming measures that it is proposed to use. Not all of them would necessarily be employed on every mile of the network once the full 300 miles are in place, but certainly appropriate traffic calming measures are part of the red route proposals and will, of course, be funded by the Department in the usual way.
There is more traffic on the red route—about 11 per cent. more—but when one examines that 11 per cent. it is interesting to note that 9 per cent. derives from traffic which was previously rat running on roads parallel to the red route. Those cars are attracted on to the red route and away from the residential rat runs. There is an addition of about 2 per cent. in overall use. I do not believe that that is any cause for concern. It is part of the red route philosophy not to increase the capacity of roads, but to use any excess capacity to provide parking where possible.
Lastly, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for suggesting that I am, indeed, trying to make positive noises about how bus priority measures can encourage more use of public transport and thereby help to prevent congestion. Buses are not the cause but the victims of congestion. As the hon. Gentleman will know, a substantial programme of bus priority measures is already under way in my Department, not all of which have yet been taken up by the boroughs. I am keen to encourage such measures in future years because they represent excellent value for money.
I give my hon. Friend the Minister the benefit of the doubt about the benefits that will flow from his announcement, but the perception of my constituents is very much the opposite. Although the benefits may become apparent, in the short term there will be massive disappointment, notably among residents in Pimlico, about Belgrave road. Will my hon. Friend give an assurance that the Department will monitor closely what happens and that if it turns out that it was wrong it will be prepared to amend its proposals at a later date?
Of course, if the Department is wrong it will change its mind, as Departments always do. More to the point, my right hon. Friend is absolutely right that, for reasons best known to other political parties, people used red routes as a political stick to beat Conservative candidates, especially during the general election. The basis of their attack was frequently gross misinformation about what red routes were.
Belgrave road is included in the network, but the amount of change will be slight and I have no doubt that overall it will be of great benefit to those who live and work there.
Many people will need persuading that red routes mean a green Government. As the right hon. Member for the City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) said, the reality is that many of our constituents in inner London, especially small businesses which have suffered from higher rates, higher rents and the recession, fear that the red routes will put them out of business altogether. Given that red routes are presumably part of a wider Government strategy, which should aim to reduce the number of vehicle journeys and vehicles on the roads of London, does the Minister accept that he should not implement the designated routes nor proceed with details —such as whether there should be one yellow line or two and the siting of parking spaces—until he has read the report on consultation on traffic management in London, which ends tomorrow and began in March, and until he has met people affected by the proposals in my borough and elsewhere?
On the fears of business, I suspect that during difficult trading times business people at every level will cast around for the things that the Government do to them that they think might harm their businesses. That is not unnatural or unreasonable but, in the only case that matters—where the red route has been established—there is no evidence that there has been any deleterious effect on business.
The hon. Gentleman is right that it is desirable to reduce the overall quantum of private vehicles. That will be achieved in two ways: first, by tempting people out of private cars and on to more efficient public transport, which is demonstrably quicker than the private car at getting them where they want to be, and that is what bus priority measures are intended to do. Secondly, to reinforce what I said earlier, part of the concept of red routes is not to increase capacity but to streamline use of the road. For example, we shall use any extra capacity for parking, to make community life more acceptable, rather than to push more cars down the road.
If the hon. Gentleman had listened to my statement, he would have heard me say that there will be an opportunity for consultation when the traffic director produces his plan, following the original proposals, and when detailed plans are drawn up with each borough.
I entirely welcome my hon. Friend's statement. Can he give some sign to the House of when designation will be provided for the A2 and A20 roads which serve south east London and thereby north west Kent? Red routing those roads would give my constituents, and many thousands of constituents served by my Kentish colleagues, the chance of a decent, short journey into work.
I have announced the present network, which will come into force towards the end of next year. I am always happy to consider representations from any quarter, especially from my hon. Friend. However. I also made clear that, because of my concern that red routes are not the only answer to congestion in London, there will be other opportunities for consultation on, for example, major bus routes, which I hope will also be of assistance to my hon. Friend and to his constituents.
Is the Minister aware that in my constituency there has been a great deal of protest from local residents and businesses about the Archway red route pilot scheme? Many local businesses have closed. Local business people to whom I have spoken blame the red route for that difficulty. Are not red routes bad for the community and for local businesses?
I do not want to be flippant and merely to say no, but no is the answer to the hon. Lady's question. She says that many people in Archway road protested vigorously about red routes. Many of those protests were made before they understood what the pilot meant. I am sure that the hon. Lady will accept that I have travelled on the route many times since I have taken responsibility for implementing the larger network. As more people recognise that, on the Holloway road section, for example, the road is an infinitely more acceptable local community road than it was before—it is now much safer to cross —people, whether they are traders, residents, pedestrians or bus users, will realise that red routes are a considerable advantage to the community. I expect that to be the case on the Archway road and elsewhere on the 300 miles of the network.
Is the Minister aware that there will be dancing in the Fulham road tonight? Indeed, he will be the toast of SW6 this evening. My constituents are extremely grateful that the Fulham road proposal has been dropped, that he has listened to their arguments and, in particular, that he has shown that the Government are a caring and listening Government when it comes to these proposals. Will he confirm that the change in the red route proposals does not mean any dimunition in his determination to improve London's bus services, and in particular bus services in west London?
I doubt whether I shall often have that sort of approbation from any quarter of the House and it is welcome on my first foray. I am grateful to my hon. Friend and even more grateful to those who will be dancing in the Fulham road tonight. However, they should be aware of the traffic hazards of dancing there rather than in residential roads adjacent. My hon. Friend is right to point out that red routes do not in any way diminish our interest in a bus priority. I have often made it clear that giving buses an easier, more effective path on which to complete their journeys is in many ways the best way of all of tempting many private motorists out of their cars and on to the public transport network. Buses are not the cause, but the victims, of congestion.
When the Minister says that there is no evidence whatever that businesses on the pilot red route which runs through the middle of my constituency have suffered, he is wrong and, I suspect, deliberately so. The Department of Transport's so-called survey, to which he referred, consisted of two officials standing on a street corner trying to do a head count of people going in and out of the shops on Upper street. That is not a scientific or accurate way to assess the impact of the red route. If the Minister had talked to local business men and gone and seen the evidence that they and I have seen with our own eyes, he would know of the fall in trade that has resulted. If he talked to local residents, he would know, too, that they do not appreciate or like the red route. If he took care not just to look at his papers and bogus surveys but to talk to the people affected, he would know that the red routes should be scrapped, not extended.
I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman is hooked on his original opposition to red routes and now that they are patently successful finds himself in a somewhat embarrassing position. My Department has no difficulty in presenting the evidence of the patronage survey. Its conclusions are clear: there is no demonstrable link whatever between red routes and any reduction in business. I do not doubt that business has reduced over the period—I suspect that there may be several reasons for that—but, as I said earlier, there is no evidence whatever to link red routes with any reduction in business.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the sort of people who are now objecting to red routes are the same sort of people who 20 or 30 years ago objected to the introduction of single and double yellow lines, which practically everyone now accepts are essential?
Does the Minister recall an answer that he gave to me two days ago about traffic volumes and speeds in central Greenwich, revealing that the average speed of vehicles even in off-peak day time is only 11½ mph? Does he recognise that that has no relationship whatever to the measures involved in red routes because there is not a parking problem, but an excessive congestion problem in that area? Does he further recognise that any effective solution depends on measures to reduce the volume of motor traffic and to encourage the use of public transport systems? Will he therefore recognise that the red route initiative is not the solution to London's traffic problems? Will he introduce measures to improve the reliability and frequency of bus and train services to meet the needs of public transport?
In the light of the questions that the hon. Gentleman has asked today and previously, I should have thought that he would be more interested in the two clear conclusions of the pilot scheme. The first was that average speeds have risen from 11 mph to 14 mph, which is not such a remarkable rise as to constitute any hazard. The other conclusion was that the accident record on the red routes is little less than spectacular. There has been a 36 per cent. reduction in accidents during the pilot period.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the benefits of the red routes include a reduction in pollution and casualties, improvements in bus, cycle and pedestrian facilities, and the transfer of traffic from residential side streets to the through routes? Does he agree that it is important to understand that the red route is not a uniform 24-hour-a-day scheme? It is a framework within which one can operate sensible and flexible enforcement of parking regulations to allow for all the business, residential and commercial needs of the frontages and the needs of the people who use the routes. Therefore, one can put at rest the concerns which have been wildly exaggerated by the Labour party.
Does the Minister not realise that the coincidence of his statement on red routes and his emphasis on buses will cause great cynicism in West Ham, where London Transport today announced the closure of the large West Ham bus garage, which has served public transport for nearly a century? Does he not realise that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford) said, London wants a co-ordinated public transport system, and that the imminent privatisation and deregulation of buses will make things worse in London? The red routes are an expensive addition to bureaucracy, which will not provide the answers that we want.
The hon. Gentleman is wrong. Bus patronage on the red routes increased by 3 per cent. —1,700 more people every week use the number 43 bus. London Transport is considering the introduction of an express bus because the red routes facilitate more effective public transport. I thought that that was something that the hon. Gentleman would want to encourage.
I congratulate the Minister on his commitment to bus priority measures and to improving the quality of public transport in London. Does he accept, however, that, important as buses are, it is even more important to improve the reliability and qualitity of the London Underground and its existing routes, such as the Northern line?
My hon. Friend will know that, in the next three years, about £3.7 billion is committed to the enhancement of London Underground, as part of our commitment to a decently modern metro. My hon. Friend knows of my concern for the Northern line and that London Underground proposes that it should be the next after the Central line to benefit from substantial upgrading.
May I say, on behalf of the London group of Members of Parliament, that we can probably do business with the Minister on this and other issues? However, is he prepared to talk to the representatives of small businesses in London, particularly the London Chamber of Commerce, so that he can hear at first hand what they say about the loss of business? Will he also speak to the police about the need for more traffic wardens? The police have said that the number of traffic wardens should be increased from 1,800 to 2,200 in order effectively to police red routes as well as double yellow lines and other parking restrictions. Unless the Government provide more resources, the red routes will not work.
I have already undertaken to meet both groups that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. I hope that we shall be able to work constructively on issues such as traffic management, which should not be party-political issues, but common-sense ones. On enforcement, the hon. Gentleman is entirely right. Good enforcement is the key to the effectiveness of the red route network. I have arranged to see the commissioner to discuss that and I shall also discuss it with my colleagues at the Home Office.
Is my hon. Friend aware that he will be toasted tonight not only in Fulham but in Kenley and Whyteleafe after his decision not to red route the A22 Godstone road? It is recognised that the A23 needs red routeing, as a result of congestion in Coulsdon, but will he confirm that that will not mean 24-hour no parking and disaster for the local shopkeepers?
I am happy to give my hon. Friend the confirmation that he seeks, and I am grateful to know that yet another area of London will be bathed in champagne ere nightfall. The Godstone road was excluded because there are no existing traffic measures there now. Where a problem does not exist, it is pointless to try to solve one, which is precisely why it was excluded from the definitive scheme.
Is the Minister aware that so-called priority routes give no priority to the local community, to local business or to the environment? While we welcome extra resources going to London Underground, that is not a great deal of help for my constituents in Lewisham, East. Is he aware that for residents in the Downham area, many of whom are elderly and rely on local shops, the effect of the further collapse of local businesses will create even more difficulties for people living in that part of my constituency? What confidence can he give them that there will be better public transport as a result of his policies?
I do not accept the hon. Lady's assertion that there is no priority for the community. Indeed, I entirely reject it. Under the pilot scheme, there have been 17 new or enhanced pedestrian crossings, four new cycle points and entry treatments on all side roads. We have achieved substantial accident reduction. I do not know what is the hon. Lady's definition of enhancing the community, but mine suggests that this measure very much enhances the local community.
As a regular user of two of the designated routes, I welcome my hon. Friend's announcement and the prospect of having a more straightforward drive to and from Westminster and my home constituency. He will appreciate that along some parts of the route, such as in my constituency, there are some concerns and perhaps misunderstandings about the implications of the red route. What will the consultation process involve? For example, will it involve residents associations as well as chambers of commerce, and will he take into account the fact that some small businesses and shopkeepers do not belong to chambers of commerce but might also have views to express?
There are essentially two elements to the consultation that will now take place. On the general plan, there will be consultation on the overall plan and criteria to be drawn up by the traffic director. There will then be an opportunity for consultation as each borough, with the traffic director, draws up its detailed plans. That consultation opportunity will be available to the groups referred to by my hon. Friend, and I hope that they will consult and let their feelings be known at the appropriate time.
Is the Minister aware that the police in Waltham Forest have said that, although the number of accidents has gone down, the number of fatalities has gone up along red routes? Is he further aware that the borough council has made it clear that Grove Green road in Leyton is wholly inappropriate for red routeing because it is a residential area and red routeing will simply mean the generation of more commuter traffic coming into London? As his removal of routes has obviously followed representations from Conservative Members, may I ask him to show that he is even-handed by taking out a route when a Labour Member makes representations to him?
On the last point, the hon. Gentleman presumably knows that Hammersmith and Fulham council—for all that it appears to have adequate supplies of champagne—is a Labour authority. He probably knows, too, that Richmond upon Thames is a Liberal authority. He must also know that the inner London boroughs which lobbied me about the inner core network are in many cases Labour authorities. So the political complexion of an authority is of absolutely no relevance.
I can only restate the clear evidence that there has been a very considerable reduction indeed in the number of accidents on the red route, a reduction of about 36 per cent. compared with a reduction of 12 per cent. in London as a whole. As for dragging extra traffic on to the roads, a point to which I referred, there was about 11 per cent. extra traffic on the pilot route, but 9 per cent. had been rat running on roads adjacent to the red route and the other 2 per cent. was additional traffic. I do not believe that that will constitute the hazard that the hon. Gentleman suggests.
As chairman of the London Conservative Members group, I thank my hon. Friend for his statement of clarification. I also pay tribute to the sensitivity of the consultation process begun by his predecessor, Christopher Chope, which my hon. Friend has now brought to a conclusion. My response to what was said by the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) would be to say that in my borough of Kingston upon Thames representations have been made equally by all parties for the A243 to be removed from the list. Obviously, the A243 was a case of, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It was inappropriate and unnecessary to include the road in the original list of priority routes, and I am grateful that my hon. Friend has now accepted the sense of the arguments from all sides and removed it.
I know that Conservative Members will be grateful for my hon. Friend's kind words about Chris Chope, who did an excellent job in the Department—I hope that he will be back here soon, doing an equally good job.
What my hon. Friend said about representations having been made from all political parties, both for and against the proposals, is entirely right and underlines what I said earlier. His general observations are right, too—flexibility is the key in finding a solution appropriate to the problem rather than inventing a solution where a problem does not exist.
There will be no parties in Croydon, North-West tonight, and if the Minister comes to my constituency no one will ask him for the last dance. Nevertheless, in all seriousness I ask him to visit my constituency and talk to people and shopkeepers in Norbury and Thornton Heath, who fear the red routes' impact on local businesses. Shops will close as a result of the policy, and shops are vital to local communities. Will the Minister postpone the measures in Croydon and elsewhere and commission a full-scale environmental, social and economic impact statement? In all fairness, will he do that—and visit my constituency?
The hon. Gentleman is repeating the same canards that have been enunciated by his hon. Friends, and he is equally wrong. There is no evidence whatever of any impact on the general economy, and a considerable amount of evidence that the overall community is greatly enhanced by such schemes. I believe that when the hon. Gentleman's constituents in Croydon see the impact of the red routes they will be even more impressed with the general performance of the Government—and that the hon. Gentleman's own tenure there may be short.
Does my hon. Friend accept how welcome his proposal for a red route in my constituency will be? There it is appropriate, and traffic will flow more freely along the Cromwell road.
Does my hon. Friend further accept how doubly welcome was his wise decision to withdraw the proposal for a red route along Holland Park and Notting Hill Gate, where it would not have been appropriate? By accepting the wise and rejecting the foolish he has earned the gratitude of my constituents.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind words, which simply underline the point that we have already made: where red routes are appropriate they have been designated, and where not, they have been excluded.
Is the Minister aware that his announcement will be greeted with horror and outrage in Streatham? Is he further aware that Streatham residents have well grounded fears that the red route through Streatham will split our community, damage local business and add to already unacceptable levels of pollution in Streatham high road? For all the much proclaimed success of the pilot red route scheme in Islington, can the Minister name one local community in London which will welcome the introduction of the red routes announced today?
The residents of Streatham will object to the introduction of red routes only if the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends go on enunciating the nonsense that we have heard from them this afternoon. Opposition Members are simply ignoring the evidence before them. If the hon. Gentleman's constituents in Streatham do not want a 36 per cent. reduction in accidents, or less pollution —because faster moving traffic pollutes less than static traffic—if they do not want the improvements available in pedestrian and cycle facilities, by all means; perhaps I have got them wrong. My view is that they will welcome those things, and that when they see the red route in action will realise that—with the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman—he is talking nonsense.
May I congratulate my hon. Friend on the speedy way in which he has tackled the issue? Is he including the notorious bottleneck on the Mile End road between the Blind Beggar and the Black Bear which causes serious hold-ups for my constituents travelling on the Al2, A 13 and A127, and for travellers going out of London on to the M25 and M11?
My hon. Friend's constituents in Billericay will be substantially advantaged by the red route programme. As she rightly suggests, for many of them —particularly those travelling down the A13 and Al2—traffic will move more quickly and they will be able to reach their destinations more speedily. I hope that she will accept that I shall have to consider the detailed points that she raised and write to her. She will understand that red routes arc not urban motorways, but will allow traffic to move more quickly, efficiently and safely. I hope that she will tell her constituents in Billericay that nobody is suggesting that red routes are the answer to all our prayers.
Is the Minister aware of the tremendous opposition in my constituency of Tottenham to red routes, particularly in the Haringey Green lanes district, where there is a unique blend of Greek and Turkish Cypriot shops which depend on passing trade? Is he aware of the effect that red routes will have on those businesses? Can he confirm that the majority of those who responded during the consultation process were opposed to red routes in my district? Why does the will of the local people—the residents and shopkeepers —count for less than the will of those who pass through the district? Why has the Minister red routed only that part of the Green lanes district which contains Greek and Turkish Cypriot shops and not the section which contains British Home Stores, Marks and Spencer, and the shopping centre?
I am sorry, but I shall have to disappoint Opposition Members. There is no great secret about the matter. The hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) will know that the basis for consultation for the proposed route system was the primary route network. That is the cause of the Green lanes anomaly—as a result of an application, part of it is designated and part of it is not. I am considering whether it might be appropriate to extend the red route in Green lanes. I find it difficult to follow the hon. Gentleman's argument as he seems to be arguing both for and against red routes. There is no contest between locals and passers-through, and if the hon. Gentleman had listened sensibly and objectively to the statistical evidence available, he would realise that the red route scheme benefits both sections of society.
If the Minister would like to see people dancing outside the Churchill hall in Finchley road tonight, he should scrap the proposed red route there. If he is unwilling to accept my evidence, will he be good enough to accept the evidence that I have received from a consortium of small businesses in Finchley road which has stated that if the red route goes ahead it will be catastrophic? It is already difficult for commuters travelling along the Finchley road to acknowledge that there are communities on either side of it. It is already extremely difficult for many of my elderly constituents to cross the road at the designated crossing places; if the red route is imposed, it will be even more difficult. If the Minister would like to know what a community is, it is surely somewhere in which an elderly pensioner can cross the road to meet her daughter and grandchildren who happen to live on the opposite side.
The hon. Lady is right and has given a perfectly acceptable definition of an improved community. She is wrong to suggest that a red route will not deliver that. She should go and have another look at Archway road, which is not far from her constituency. If she does so with a clear mind, she will see the obvious benefits to pedestrians and others in the local community.
There will be great opposition in Kennington, Clapham, Stockwell and the Oval to today's announcement. Will the Minister explain what the benefit is to the communities living in Kennington, the Oval or anywhere near the main road used by so many Members of Parliament travelling back home to their constituencies at night? How will it help people living in the community if commuters travel that little bit faster?
The first thing that the hon. Lady should know is that the concept of the red route scheme does not suggest that it should last 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A red route would make little or no difference to hon. Members leaving the House late at night. The advantages to the hon. Lady's constituents will be those that I have enumerated from the Dispatch Box several times this afternoon: fewer accidents, less pollution from fewer stationary vehicles and from vehicles which, when moving, will do so more quickly, better access for pedestrians, and more cycle points. I do not know how many more times I shall have to explain to Opposition Members the clear advantages of the scheme. I suspect that the problem is that they simply do not want to listen.
Clearly, the Minister does not understand that it did not take any effort from Opposition Members to convince people that the red route system was not a good idea. When the pilot scheme was the only red route in existence, constituents from all parts of London came to us in overwhelming numbers to express their views. Community groups stated that the routes should be resisted at all costs. Is the Minister aware that people along the South Circular will regard the announcement as the latest attempt to shovel vast volumes of traffic on them as it follows on the heels of the south circular assessment study? We are still awaiting the subsidiary recommendations of that investigation. Communities will be rent asunder by a scheme which is designed—as it is obvious to anyone listening to the statement—to get people from outer London through the inconvenience of inner London by degrading the lives of inner Londoners.
I believe that Opposition Members—who have cynically exploited people's ignorance of what the red route programme actually means and cynically ignored the available evidence to show that the routes are a considerable success—have been hoist by their own petard. They are in a difficult position and I sympathise with them. The hon. Gentleman cannot make a case against red routes out of the prospect that there may be a 2 per cent. increase in traffic on main roads which have been improved in order to accommodate more vehicles. His argument simply will not wash.
Does the Minister accept that the people of Hackney do not want red routes, which are at best a gimmick and at worst damaging to local businesses? They want money for the Hackney-Chelsea line so that there is a tube link to central London and they want bus conductors to he brought back so that mothers in Hackney can have help getting pushchairs on and off buses.
The hon. Lady may, for her own purposes, choose to dismiss red routes as a gimmick, but no one who takes an objective view of them will do so. They are a considerable aid to improved traffic management and traffic flow. The hon. Lady knows that the Department views the Hackney-Chelsea line scheme with considerable approbation, and is considering how to advance it as soon as possible—[Interruption.] From a sedentary position, the hon. Lady suggests that finance is an issue, and of course it is. She will appreciate that that is why we are already spending £3.7 billion over the next three years on the upgrading of the London Underground. One of the marvellous advantages to be gained from deregulating London buses will be that some operators may choose to offer a premium two-man operation service of which the hon. Lady can avail herself.