A5 Trunk Road

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:13 pm on 5th November 1997.

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Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Environment) 1:13 pm, 5th November 1997

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, which highlights difficulties, real dangers and concerns that are not limited to his constituents or his constituency. They can be replicated across the whole country, which is why the issues on which my hon. Friend has touched will be central to our White Paper.

The issue that looms largest in the roads review is undoubtedly congestion. On current predictions, if we do nothing, in 20 years' time there will be roughly half as much traffic again on our roads. We could allow increasing congestion to ration road space, but the costs to industry, the environment and society more generally would, I believe, be unacceptable. That leaves us with three broad options—making better use of the existing infrastructure, managing demand and providing new infrastructure.

Making better use of the existing infrastructure is the obvious first choice. It may also be the least painful. Making better use of the network may help to provide a much-needed breathing space, but there must be some doubt about whether it can cater for more than a small fraction of the forecast increase in demand. That means that we have to look very seriously at the other, harder options—managing demand and providing new infrastructure.

Managing demand is a vast topic, cutting across all modes. It encompasses reducing the need to travel, through land use planning and by changing the way in which we live, work and enjoy our leisure. It must include an assessment of the extent to which we can encourage a shift to other modes. Inevitably, it involves controlling demand by pricing or rationing mechanisms—unpopular though they may be.

At bottom, managing demand is about changing human behaviour. It follows that it is an extremely difficult thing to do. I am sure that we could readily achieve a consensus that as a society we should use cars less, but making it happen is another matter. Managing demand has to be a question of carrots and sticks. The carrots include ensuring that there are attractive public transport alternatives and that there are safe and unpolluted routes for those who would prefer to cycle or walk.