My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Government are in the middle of a £23 billion programme of investment to upgrade our strategic road network. We are also investing money in pinch points, with an additional £220 million going to tackle them last year. Throughout the country, that money is being used for smaller local projects such as junction improvements that can really make a difference to traffic flows.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that some councils cause avoidable congestion themselves by the use of unnecessary and poorly-phased traffic lights? Will he encourage local authorities to audit their traffic-light usage to see whether some can be switched off? Will he also encourage the greater use of traffic-sensitive traffic lights?
I agree with both those points. Traffic lights play an important part in the management of traffic flows, but if they are synchronised in the wrong way or used in the wrong way, they can make things worse, rather than better. I absolutely join my right hon. Friend in sending to councils the message that they should keep traffic-light usage under constant review.
The chaos on Northern rail is apparent, but even had there not been the timetabling problems, the Northern rail and trans-Pennine franchises were let on a no-growth basis. Does the Secretary of State now realise that it was a mistake to let rail franchises on a no-growth basis and that it led to road congestion?
That was an extraordinarily interesting question, but we were supposed to be talking about road congestion.
Oh, did you? I beg the hon. Gentleman’s pardon. I heard a reference to rail electrification.
It is simply not true that the Northern franchise was let on a no-growth basis, although it was under the Labour party when it was in power. One reason why we have had the timetable problems, apart from the delay to the electrification—the investment that we are putting into the railway line from Manchester to Blackpool—is that we were in May introducing hundreds of new services, additional services and longer trains throughout the Northern rail region. That is hardly a zero-growth franchise.
One thing is clear to me: if Graham Stringer encounters road congestion, his antidote to it is to pursue what might be called an indirect route.
One thing that would reduce road congestion is, of course, getting people out of their cars and on to their bikes. We very much welcome the upgrade of the A358 in Taunton, but does the Secretary of State agree that whatever route is chosen by Highways England, the provision of adequate cycling infrastructure should very much be part of upgrades?
I always hope that when a new road is put in place, provision will be made for other users—cyclists and pedestrians—alongside that road, particularly in respect of a major road like the A358. That new road will of course mean that there is substantial additional capacity on the old road, which will become much less congested, but I am sure that Highways England will be looking carefully into how it can make provision for all road users.
The A38 from Exeter to Plymouth closes too often owing to accidents and congestion. Will the Secretary of State look favourably on funding bids from Plymouth City Council and Tory-run Devon County Council to upgrade this road, address accident blackspots and start the much needed process of extending the M5 from Exeter to Plymouth?
I am obviously aware of the pressures on the A38 and, indeed, of the pressures on roads north and west from Plymouth. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Mrs Murray who, last week, made a very strong argument to me when I visited Cornwall for improvements to the west of Plymouth. That is something that we are looking at very carefully.