Road Construction

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport – in the House of Commons at 2:35 pm on 29th November 1993.

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Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown , Cirencester and Tewkesbury 2:35 pm, 29th November 1993

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what estimates his Department has made as to the number of miles of new roads that will be constructed in the UK in the years 1993 to 2000 inclusive.

Photo of Mr John MacGregor Mr John MacGregor Chair, Privileges Committee, The Secretary of State for Transport, Chair, Privileges Committee

In 1993–94, we plan to start construction of some 130 miles, the vast majority of which is improvement to existing roads, including widening, and to bypasses, which are environmentally desirable and much in demand. For future years, the amount of road construction that we can do will depend on the availability of funds and the progress of schemes through statutory procedures.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I thank my right hon. Friend for those figures. In sustaining that level of road building programme to meet the exponential rise of car ownership, has he considered what monetary instruments he might use to redress the balance of the use of the motor car in favour of other forms of transport?

Photo of Mr John MacGregor Mr John MacGregor Chair, Privileges Committee, The Secretary of State for Transport, Chair, Privileges Committee

One of the points that I wish to make clearly, as my hon. Friend talks about the rise of car ownership, is that we are not talking about vast new green field roads or roads over green field sites. Fifteen out of the 130 miles about which I have talked this year are concentrated on green field areas; the rest is widening and so on.

As to my hon. Friend's question about pricing, I imagine that what he had in mind was the consultation paper that I announced earlier this year about the possibility of motorway charging. I am currently considering all the many responses that we have had to the Green Paper from more than 230 organisations. We had a very constructive response, and I hope to make an announcement as soon as the paper is completed.

Photo of Nick Harvey Nick Harvey Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

In the light of the National Audit Office report about the spiralling costs of motorway widening, does the Secretary of State accept that the costs have got out of control? Given that public opposition to motorway schemes is widespread and growing, is he aware that all eyes will be on tomorrow's Budget, particularly on the ordinary roads programme and the public transport spending side of it, and if those areas, like others, are suffering constraint, would it not be quite wrong to continue pressing the case for super-freeways?

Photo of Mr John MacGregor Mr John MacGregor Chair, Privileges Committee, The Secretary of State for Transport, Chair, Privileges Committee

I am not going to comment in advance of anything that may or may not be said tomorrow. The hon. Gentleman will know that there is also widespread concern from most motorists, but significantly from industry, at the congestion costs that arise when motorways are not able to take the flow of traffic. The congestion costs to British industry can be very serious. We have to have a real mind to the competitiveness of British industry, to which improved motorways can make a substantial contribution.

However much we devote public expenditure to rail investment, there will still be an ever-increasing demand for freight on the road, because so many of the journeys are comparatively short or are not made in accordance with the rail infrastructure. There will continue to have to be a substantial road programme if our economy is to remain competitive.

The NAO report looked at only 10 schemes, introduced since 1989. We are looking at that report, but if the hon. Gentleman reads it, he will see that the Department is taking a lot of action along the lines suggested by the Comptroller and Auditor General.

Photo of Mr Hugh Dykes Mr Hugh Dykes , Harrow East

I welcome the Government's acknowledgement that the era of massive road building is over, because it is too expensive and it merely adds to congestion. Will my right hon. Friend confirm yet again, however, that over the next 10 years—as we win successive general elections—it will be Government policy to enhance the role of the railways, in whatever form, to ensure that, in this densely populated country, we focus just as much on rail travel?

Photo of Mr John MacGregor Mr John MacGregor Chair, Privileges Committee, The Secretary of State for Transport, Chair, Privileges Committee

As my hon. Friend will hear when I answer a later question, we devote substantial resources to public transport, especially considering the amount of traffic that it takes. In effect, we are skewing departmental expenditure plans significantly in favour of public transport.

My hon. Friend should recognise, however, that the railways are simply not suitable for large elements of freight transport, so it is necessary to ensure that we have thoroughly up-to-date motorways. My hon. Friend will note that we are concentrating pretty well all the road programme on the improvement of motorways and principal roads and not building new ones. We are also concentrating on bypasses, for which there is a great demand.

Photo of Joan Walley Joan Walley Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

Is the Secretary of State not shifting his position in that he does not believe in the roads policy any more? Is it not time we had a real debate in this place on the National Audit Office report, and time there was a much greater shift towards public transport and away from a roads policy which is already £6 billion out of control?

Photo of Mr John MacGregor Mr John MacGregor Chair, Privileges Committee, The Secretary of State for Transport, Chair, Privileges Committee

I do not agree at all, and I am not shifting my ground. I make it clear again that we still need significant investment in our road programme if we are to have the road network that we shall need in the 21st century. Large numbers of our fellow citizens are buying cars in increasing numbers and have the wherewithal to use them more and more—and they will want to do so. They, too, will demand such a network—quite apart from the problems of congestion for industry.

I have also made it clear that we are investing substantially in public transport, which represents nearly 40 per cent. of our total spending. Only about 10 per cent. of traffic goes by public transport, so we are clearly and disproportionately weighting our expenditure in favour of public transport and have been doing so for some time.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink , Castle Point

When will my right hon. Friend report on the lower Thames crossing? Has Canvey Island been identified as one of the sites for that crossing?

Photo of Mr John MacGregor Mr John MacGregor Chair, Privileges Committee, The Secretary of State for Transport, Chair, Privileges Committee

I am not in a position to say. It is too early to give my hon. Friend the kind of information that he requires.