Clause 81

Local Transport Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 8 May 2008.

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Conferral of a power to direct

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

The clause confers on an ITA or a local transport authority a power to give a direction to a metropolitan district council, a county council or a unitary authority. Such a direction will take the form of an instruction as to how those bodies should exercise their functions as a highway authority or traffic authority. The principal uses of the power would seem to be in the areas of the ability to install traffic management measures and traffic calming measures, and the carrying out of maintenance measures. In theory, all that is fine, but the practice is often rather different.

Subsections (8) to (11) offer conditions so that the exercise of the power is, in some ways, constrained at times, because they say that the directed body would have to do certain things or obtain consent. Conditions would be imposed on the directed body’s power, and powers could not be used in certain circumstances. The directed body must use the power if the directing authority meets the cost of compliance.

The question, yet again, is that of local versus regional. I shall cite a couple of examples from my constituency in which what the directing authority does is not in tune with what the local authority, or, perhaps more importantly, local people, want. In my constituency, the directing body is Transport for London. It wanted to impose a regional cycle network. There was little dispute over the objective, but what was in dispute—and is always in dispute—was some of the routeing.

At one point, TfL decided that the route through Wimbledon should come up one residential road, cross a local main road and go on to another residential road, before proceeding on to another main road and on to Raynes Park. On paper, that looked like a simple exercise, and no one disagreed with the aim of a cycle route. The point at issue was that it involved coming up a local road, skewing across a main road and then going down another local road on a blind bend. That was a death trap for local cyclists, and that point was made in representations by the local residents association, the local cycle group and local councillors. However, the directing authority continued to insist on the route, despite the fact that it was proven to the authority that a similar scheme could be enacted 100 yd up the road without the death trap for cyclists.

The route was imposed, and consequently there was an accident, and now almost no one uses that part of the cycle route. That illustrates that the caveat that the Minister appears to have put into subsections (8) to (11)—that of obtaining consent—needs to be reconsidered. Local authorities and residents often know more than the regional integrated transport authority. Although its wishes and aims might be laudable, unless it takes  account of the local context, it is very likely that, in a number of cases, it will do more harm than good.

Wimbledon hill provides a similar example. It is a three-lane—one up, two down—road connecting Wimbledon village to the town centre. Transport for London wanted to insert a bus lane and a new set of traffic controls. We were told that that would speed up the buses, after which TfL would re-engineer its lighting system so that the lights at the bottom of the hill would go through the town in a green wave. If that were to have happened, it would have been entirely laudable and no one would have opposed it. Indeed, no one opposed it initially. However, when TfL came back with its detailed model, a number of consequences of the proposal became apparent, the first of which was that it could not re-engineer the lights for more than two years. Even with the introduction of the bus lane, that would actually slow down bus journeys.

Once again, TfL was asked to reconsider, but four years on, it still has not been able to re-engineer the traffic lights, so we now have not only bus journeys taking longer than they did four years ago, but cars idling, increasing CO2 emissions all the way up the hill. Although I fully accept the need for regional traffic strategies and the benefits that integrated transport authorities can bring, a question mark remains: are we clear that subsections (8) to (11), and particularly the caveat about obtaining consent—the question mark is that the powers cannot be used in certain circumstances—could be used to protect very local, but highly important, circumstances?

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

My hon. Friend is making a very good case. Is not the nub of it  that very often those with these regional powers exercise them with arrogance and the attitude, “We know better than local opinion,” when in reality the converse is the truth?

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

That might well be my right hon. Friend’s experience. It might be arrogance, but it might just be that they wish to push ahead with their strategy because they believe that it is right. All too often, unless local circumstances are brought into a strategy, it will not bring the benefits that we all seek. I hope that the Minister will confirm how she expects the caveats in subsections (8) to (11) to work. I am concerned about the need to obtain local consent, or if not consent, at least a proper local consultation so that the appropriate examination takes place and local circumstances can be built in to the regional strategy. I am concerned that subsections (8) to (11) do not deal with that.

We had this debate earlier when we were talking about the constituent parts of the integrated transport authorities. If they take account of proper local representation, there is a chance that local circumstances could be built in to the regional strategy. However, if that local representation is not there, it cannot be built in. I want the Minister to reassure us that subsections (8) to (11) will ensure that the degree of power that must be given to the integrated transport authority can, in certain circumstances, be restrained by local consent. I am not convinced that those subsections necessarily do that. Without those constraints, an authority’s good intentions might be entirely negated.

It being twenty-five minutes past Ten o’clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at ten minutes past One o’clock.