asked Her Majesty's Government:
What progress has been made on the provision of a service station on the M40 between London and the Oxford service station; whether planning permission has been granted; and, if so, what is the projected date of opening.
My Lords, there are two current applications for planning permission for motorway service areas both near Junction 2 on the M40: one at Hedgerley, which was the subject of a public inquiry last year, and on which a decision is awaited; and one at Burtley Wood, which we expect to be considered at a public inquiry later this year.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. However, does he understand the enormous frustration and disappointment that that will cause people who use the M40 every day? Will the Minister confirm that it is the Government's intention to have a motorway service station in the area as soon as is possible and practicable? Will they also consider the possibility of having directional signs, and perhaps distance signs, on some of the roundabouts on the M40 to direct people to where they can buy petrol?
My Lords, the M40 has three service stations at roughly 30-mile intervals, according to government guidelines. The distance between Oxford and London is slightly further than that; nevertheless, there is not necessarily a case for the development of a motorway service area. We shall, however, consider any proposals that come forward. At present, the inspector considering the Hedgerley proposal has recommended against it. Such matters are also complicated by the fact that planning applications have also been made as regards the M25, some of which have been subject to court procedures. That will also have some influence on the availability of service stations in the area.
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that when the High Wycombe bypass was developed in, I believe, the early 1970s, provision was made for a service station in the area? Indeed, some of the slip-roads were constructed at the time and are still there today. Can my noble friend say what has happened to that proposal? Thirty years is an awfully long time for the provision of a service station!
My Lords, I am aware of that situation, principally because my noble friend told me about it roughly four minutes ago. I am afraid that I do not have at my fingertips information regarding the reasons for not proceeding with that development 30 years ago. Indeed, if my arithmetic is right, the party opposite was in power at that time. It is possible that the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, knows more about it than I do.
Under the present system, we shall consider any commercial proposals that come forward. There are currently two commercial proposals regarding areas further down the M40, closer to Gerrards Cross. There is currently no proposal to use the site at High Wycombe on the table.
Yes, my Lords. I deeply appreciate, as does the whole House, the noble Lord's participation in these debates.
My Lords, the Minister did not respond to the second of the noble Lord's supplementaries with regard to signing. This is a problem in quite a number of different areas in the country. Therefore, in areas where service stations are not situated at fairly frequent intervals, should not the availability of petrol and other services be signed on the motorway or dual carriageway?
My Lords, the general policy would be against installing such signs. Broadly speaking, service stations are situated at least every 30 miles on motorways. Therefore, installing signs indicating that petrol facilities are available off the motorway would raise issues not only of traffic flow and, potentially, of safety, but also regarding the Highways Agency effectively favouring one garage as against others in the vicinity. Although there are exceptional circumstances in which we sign off-motorway facilities, we do not do so in general. However, I shall bear the point in mind in this case.
My Lords, will my noble friend perhaps take a different point of view about the M40; namely, that there is an adequate number of service stations and that, if anything needs to be improved, it is the quality of the food? As for signing, if anyone happens to miss such a sign should not he be prosecuted for driving without due care and attention?
My Lords, I certainly agree that motorway service areas and facilities are pretty well signed in advance. Indeed, as you approach one sign, you are told how many miles it is to the next one. Drivers should certainly be paying attention to such signs. As to the quality of food and service, the contents of my postbag indicate that there is considerable concern in the country about such matters. The OFT recently considered the pricing and the quality of the service available, and wants to increase competition and improve services. Discussions are taking place with both the operators and my officials to ascertain how competition could be increased and the quality of the service thereby improved.