Road Works: Disruption

– in the House of Lords at 2:43 pm on 19th June 2002.

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Photo of Lord Geddes Lord Geddes Deputy Chairman of Committees 2:43 pm, 19th June 2002

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, within the framework of fines and lane rental schemes, local authorities and highways authorities should be required to pay costs in proportion to the disruption caused to road users by their actions.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, we have appointed consultants, Halcrow, to monitor the effect of both the lane rental and charging for overrunning schemes on the level of disruption caused to road users by works on the highway and to assess the extent and cost of that disruption. That information will help to inform decisions on the future of the two schemes and at what level any charges for overrunning and lane rental should be set in future.

Photo of Lord Geddes Lord Geddes Deputy Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I am encouraged by the presence of such quantity and quality on the Benches of the Lords Spiritual. Is not the Minister's reply deficient on the point of the Question, which is that local authorities and highways authorities should bear their share of the cost? Does the Minister agree with the statistic that more than 50 per cent of holes in the road, to quote my noble friend Lord Peyton, are caused by such local and highways authorities? Should they not pay their whack, to put it in the vulgar?

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, local authorities and highways authorities should certainly exercise the same restraint and co-ordination as that required of public utilities to minimise the disruption of road works. But of course, if we start to fine local authorities and highways authorities, the money comes into one pocket and out of the other, so to speak. I am not sure that that is a worthwhile activity. However, last July we introduced a statutory code of practice for highways authorities on maintenance management and we are conscious of the need for them to exercise restraint.

Photo of Lord Peyton of Yeovil Lord Peyton of Yeovil Conservative

My Lords, my noble friend is to be congratulated on having elicited from the Minister a better Answer than we have received for a long time on this subject. Will the Minister deploy his considerable intellect and eloquence to persuade the highways authorities—in which I include the Mayor of London and his team—that roads are for movement and that the duty of highways authorities and the rest of them is to facilitate movement, not to interrupt it or to make it impossible?

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I fear this Greek in particular when he comes bearing compliments of that kind. Yes, of course roads are for movement, but roads are also the conduits for water, gas, electricity and telecommunications. Whether or not they are dug up—but especially when they are—they have to be mended from time to time to be made passable for everything from horse-drawn vehicles to motor cars. I am afraid that that means that there will continue to be disruption of the highways.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I am sure that there is time for both of us. Does the Minister agree that local authorities would be among the first to welcome any scheme that will reduce the disruption caused to the travelling public—I include those who travel by public transport as well as drivers? Do the Government have any proposals to extend the trials currently under way beyond their present areas? I am sure that the whole community, especially the business community, would welcome that.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, the problem is that the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 was not sufficiently specific. It did not provide incentives for co-ordination; it did not provide incentives for people to talk to each other when they plan to dig up the roads; it did not even provide disincentives for their not knowing where their cables, pipes and so on lay beneath the roads. So we have had to introduce additional regulations to try to make it work. In addition to trying to encourage co-ordination, we plan penalties for lack of co-ordination, and that is what over-running charges and lane rental are. I hope that every Member of the House will support that, because that is the only way that it will be made to work.

As for extensions beyond Camden and Middlesbrough, which are the two pilot areas, I agree that that is desirable. Seven local authorities expressed an interest in taking part in the pilot but, for various reasons, the other five were ineligible. But I am sure that the offer is still open.

Photo of Viscount Astor Viscount Astor Conservative

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the person responsible for increasing congestion during the past few weeks is the Mayor of London? He has so far changed the setting on 338 sets of traffic lights. Will the Minister condemn the proposal to extend that to another 51 sets of traffic lights, which will make traffic flow in London worse? Do the Government believe that the mayor's congestion charging plan for London will increase traffic flow or make it worse throughout Greater London?

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch Conservative

My Lords, who was the Martian who took the decision a week ago to cordon off 300 acres of London because of a burst water main in front of the Rubens Hotel in Buckingham Palace Road and insisted that no work should be done on it over the weekend? The whole area—indeed, the whole of London—is entirely fouled up because of this incident. Have the Government any idea of the cost to the national economy of that Martian's decision?

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I do not know any Martians so I am a little handicapped. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, has a valid complaint. I shall make inquiries and write to him about it if it is the responsibility of the Government.

Photo of Lord Brougham and Vaux Lord Brougham and Vaux Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House how much these consultants will cost the taxpayer?

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

No, my Lords. It is a very significant piece of work. It will extend over a period until March 2004. It covers both over-running and lane rental experiments and involves a substantial exercise in estimating and assessing the extent of the cost of disruption. As the noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux, will know, that is not an easy question to resolve. I do not know the figure. I shall write to him about it.