Clause 17 - Arrangements for network management

Part of Traffic Management Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 29th January 2004.

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Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport 2:30 pm, 29th January 2004

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on that if nothing else.

The phrase ''obligations, policies and objectives'' is deliberately all embracing: it refers to the obligations, policies and objectives of the entire council, rather than just its highways authority. It does not mean only value for money or the well-worn assessment and appraisal methodologies for particular transport projects that will aid network management. It also means efficiency in terms of best value regime. The concept of efficiency is well rooted in that and in the subsequent best value performance indicators. I am not trying to be deliberately obstructive, but the hon. Gentleman will find that his concerns, which I share, are covered by the phrase, ''obligations, policies and objectives'' in the third line of clause 16, rather than by the word ''efficient'' later in the clause.

Amendment No. 99 is otiose, not least because the broad principles on the network management duty have already been outlined in the guidance. The first line refers to consideration of broad principles and therefore the issues that local authorities need to work through for their network, such as links to local transport and other plans. The local highway authority will not supersede local transport or community plans. The way in which the authority determines how best to achieve its statutory network management duty will be rooted in the local transport plan and other plans, not least the regional transport plan. The achievement of the network management duty must occur in the natural context set at a local level by the Government. It is not useful to suggest that work done in pursuance of the duty by local traffic authorities will take precedence. That will not help to improve the Bill.

I have been in charge of local transport plans for the past six months and have found that some larger maintenance projects take three or four years to come to fruition. There may be more pressing work in an area, but to achieve the network management duty a local authority may have to do work that appears to be contradictory to the long-term objectives of the plan. Ultimately, however, by remedying something in one part of its area, the authority will fulfil the local transport plan overall. Fulfilment of the network duty must be rooted in the local transport plan and other plans. It is not a case of one taking precedence over the other. However, the duty must be flexible enough to supersede the local transport plan if necessary .

On my giving my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East an arcane answer, amendment No. 154 would replace the word ''may'' with ''will'' in clause 18 . That may sound reasonable to those of us versed in English, but that is not the case according to the lawyers. I am told that ''shall'' or ''will'' can be interpreted as meaning that we must ensure that guidance is absolutely comprehensive in all respects of clauses 16 and 17. The guidance would have to encompass everything that anyone could want to know about the achievability of a network management duty.

The word ''may'' gives scope for omission. It would not require the advisory guidance to take account of every local circumstance for all 142 or so highway authorities. If we insert the word ''will'', an aspect that might be unique to Cumbria and have no relevance to the rest of the country would have to be included. That could be omitted and still provide cogent and prudent national advice. Scope for omission gives us flexibility in the tortured language that we legislate in, rather than the tortured use of the language that we talk in. In that context, I ask hon. Members to withdraw the amendment. All the serious points that have been raised are adequately covered elsewhere.