§ 1.5 a.m.
§ Mr. Eric Cockeram (Bebington)
I am pleased to have the opportunity to raise the important subject of Britain's motorway programme, because it is essential that this country has a modern, efficient system of transport communications. This is a principle which has been accepted in our country for many years.
Britain began well because the Romans provided us with a good system of roads. The next revolution started in the county of Cheshire with the canal network started by the Earl of Bridgwater. It is a sad reflection on Britain today that we have 2,500 miles of navigable canals and are boasting because we have reached 1,000 miles of motorway—in other words, we have more than twice as many miles of canals as we have motorways. This activity was followed by a great railway programme which was pursued by the Victorians and which established a modern communications system which stretched across the United Kingdom in a comparatively short time.
The expansion that has taken place in car ownership is apparent to everybody who uses the roads. Since 1956 the ownership of vehicles has multiplied more than threefold. Today there are more than 16 million vehicles in this country and it is anticipated that by 1980—which seems a long way off but is only six and a half years away—we shall have some 22 million vehicles on our roads.
1202 This great growth in road traffic and in the number of vehicles has produced the environmental lobby. This is not surprising because the conditions on many of our roads in villages and suburban areas containing most of the dwelling-houses are intolerable. Let us take, for example, the A2 to Dover. We are now part of Europe and yet our traffic to the Continent has to travel that road, which twists and turns its way through winding little villages. A portion of the A2 consists of motorway, but that is only dual carriageway. I do not know who it was in the Ministry who decided that the road to the ports should be dual carriageway, but it was certainly a classic example of misjudgment.
The villages affected by traffic of this nature must tolerate ever-increasing vehicle numbers in terms of size and weight and they twist their way past clapboard cottages shaking their very foundations. There is a similar situation in the residential areas of towns. In the thirties it was thought that bypasses were the answer, but in these modern days it has become apparent that motorways are the answer in relieving the burden of many of our towns and villages. Anybody who uses the Ml and the M6 going north will realise how superior they are to a series of bypasses, such as on the old A5, around villages. I am glad to say that the present Government have done a great deal to soften the blow for those affected by the building of motorways and the value of whose properties has been affected by the development of motorways. The Land Compensation Bill is a generous measure designed to compensate those who otherwise would suffer.
Let us look at some of the statistics. In 1970 we opened 97 miles of motorways for the first time for public use. In 1971 we opened 210 miles. That somewhat understates the true position because there were a further 18 miles completed and ready for opening in that year, but because of the fiasco of the box girder bridges—we do not seem to be very good at our design of bridges—18 miles of motorway which otherwise would have been completed and would have been opened were deferred. The real tally in 1971 would have been 228 miles. In 1972 the total dropped dramatically to 35 miles, including those 18 miles which should 1203 have been opened a year earlier. In fact, if things had not gone wrong with the box girder bridges, we would have opened a mere 17 miles of motorway last year.
When I tell the Minister that I regard that as a snail's pace of progress, no doubt he will think I am using that as a figure of speech. But I mean it literally because, if we analyse it, we find that we were constructing motorways at the rate of three yards per hour, while a snail can travel at more than twice that speed. In Britain today we ought to be able to do better than that.
In 1973—this year—according to a reply I received to a parliamentary Question, it was hoped to build 77 miles of motorway. We know from past performances that hopes do not always mature into reality. There are a number of reasons for that. There can be problems of construction because of the geology of the land in question. There can be strikes which hold up construction. There can be weather factors which delay the work. Let us not therefore confuse hopes for the future with reality. If we look at the performance in the past, we find that there is every reason for saying that. I do not regard 77 miles for this year as anything to crow about.
Similarly, if we look at the motorway mileage under construction over the last three years, we find that the figure has been falling. I have the figures for April of the last three years. Three years ago there were 309 miles under construction. The following year the figure dropped to 306, and the year after that to 210. That shows a slowing down —and this in a period of reflation and unemployment, when we have been seeking to increase public expenditure to cut unemployment, a programme which, I am glad to say, has been successful.
We must not start talking about motorway taxation, because we know that it does not bear any relation to what is spent on the motorist. Nevertheless, it is true that the State does very well out of the motorist. The motorist's contribution to the taxes of this country is more than three times as great as is spent on motorways.
The report from the Secretary of State for the Environment, published last December for the preceding year, which 1204 is the most recent and up-to-date report, shows that at that time firm plans were in hand for the construction of 238 miles of motorway. In addition, there was a preparation pool of 294 miles, making about 530 miles in the Department's pigeon-holes.
I do not regard that as in any way adequate, bearing in mind the slow progress that motorways make, not merely on the ground but prior to that stage, through planning permissions and appeals, public inquiries and so on. I think that 500 miles is not very much to shout about, particularly in a country such as ours where we have only about 1,000 miles of motorway in any event.
In Germany, a country with a comparable population to ours, there are 3,500 miles of motorway. Italy has 3,000 miles and in the Netherlands, a country one-sixth the size of ours, there are 600 miles of motorways. If we make an international comparison of the number of vehicles per mile of highway, we find that France has 31, Denmark 34 and the United Kingdom 66.
It is apparent that the public are determined to own their own cars if they can afford to do so. United Kingdom expenditure on purchasing cars and running them, in the most recent year for which figures are available, was £3,600 million. In addition, more than £500 million was spent on buses and coaches, making a total of more than £4,000 million on road transport. That compares with expenditure on rail travel by the public of £264 million. It is clear, therefore, that the public are anxious to spend their money on road travel rather than on other forms of transport.
Turning from the general position to the particular in my constituency, the Mid-Wirral Motorway, the M53, was completed and opened just over 12 months ago. But that is producing problems because it terminates at a point called the Eastern Roundabout. All the traffic on the A41 from the docks at Liverpool and Merseyside, through the old tunnel, comes to that roundabout, as also does the motorway which terminates at this point, producing real traffic chaos south of the Eastern Roundabout, in Little Sutton and down the A41. It is apparent to everyone that it is no good discussing Belisha crossings or other forms of more sophisticated pedestrian 1205 crossings or traffic barriers. The only solution is to complete the motorway programme in the Wirral and extend the M53 on the line that it is ultimately intended that it should take.
In our area we also feel a sense of grievance because the box girder bridge problem, to which I have referred, still leaves a residual problem. There are only three box girder bridges in the country which are still closed and have been closed since the time of the first box girder scare. Those three bridges are in the Wirral, in Cheshire, just adjacent to my constituency. We on Merseyside feel that we deserve more than being singled out as the back end of the queue.
I hope that the Minister will not rely on statistics of expenditure on roads in general because I draw a distinct difference between expenditure on old roads to modernise them, such as widening an existing road, or perhaps taking out a curve and straightening it in some way, which is merely modernising an old asset, and constructing motorways, which is building an entirely new asset. Anyone who has to drive heavy lorries on roads which children and families are using and where shopping takes place by the kerbside, with all the other problems that exist on ordinary highways, will know that the modernising of an old road bears no comparison with the construction of motorways.
Even Mr. Richard Marsh, the Chairman of British Railways, speaking in October last year, stated:I believe we should spend more on roads —particularly on urban motorways.That was said by someone who clearly has an interest in promoting railways.
It is accepted that in 1971 road transport accounted for 63 per cent. of all the ton-miles of freight transport in this country. The railways take the longdistance and heavy traffic. If we express it by weight rather than ton-miles, the roads took 85 per cent. and rail took the balance.
It is clear that the public choose road transport rather than other forms. That is true in passenger mileage as 91 per cent. went by road and only 8 per cent. by rail.
I am not seeking to turn this into a debate on rail versus motorways. I am 1206 seeking only to demonstrate the preponderance of traffic which travels by road, the acceptance of that fact by the Chairman of British Railways and the need of this country to begin to catch up with our counterparts in Europe. If we are to have an efficient economy and if industry is to keep down its prices, we must have good communications. At present we are not keeping pace with other countries; indeed, we are losing the battle because our vehicular traffic is expanding faster than our motorway programme.
§ 1.19 a.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Keith Speed)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bebington (Mr. Cockeram) for giving us the opportunity to discuss, however briefly, this very important subject of inter-urban road building. This is something which we do not discuss nearly enough in the House.
Over recent years there has been an increasingly vocal expression of the view that we are building or planning to build too many new roads which will make too great changes in our countryside and townscapes. It is argued that new roads simply generate new traffic and that congestion is not eased—or is eased only for a very short time—by them. It is also said that we have an under-used asset— the railways—proper exploitation of which could reduce traffic and so remove the need for route improvements.
Further, it is argued that, even if some new roads are needed, there is too little consideration of their impact on the landscape and too little consultation of those most concerned—the public themselves. My hon. Friend has not put forward this case. On the contrary, he has suggested that the Government are not doing enough and that we must provide more roads more quickly to meet the demands of industry and of a more mobile public. He has drawn attention to the need to relieve towns of the congestion caused by through traffic, to aid the regions and to improve access to the ports.
My hon. Friend spoke of access to the South-East ports and of the A2 particularly. He will know of the considerable amount of work planned and under way which will make the A2 a 1207 much better road by 1975. Concurrent with that are the construction of the M20 which will eventually run to Folkestone and parallel improvements on the A2.
These are the two sides of the argument. To resolve them we must look carefully at the facts and at the possibilities for the future, certainly the next 10 years. Ten years ago there were 10½ million vehicles on our roads. Today there are over 16 million, including 12½ million private cars and 1½ million goods vehicles. Other things being equal, it is estimated that by 1980 there will be, if not 21 million vehicles, certainly 20 million, including 18 million cars and almost 2 million goods vehicles.
Of course this may not happen. It is suggested that man's enchantment with the car is over. The figure for vehicle registration scarcely bear this out. It is suggested that petrol prices will be so high because of diminishing supply—perhaps even rationed—that vehicle miles travelled will certainly fall. Is is too soon to say. We must take some of the wilder estimates with a pinch of salt.
It is suggested that vehicle use will in any case need to be restricted if our towns, our countryside and our resorts are not to be ruined by their increased inaccessibility. I have no doubt that we need to develop—indeed, we are developing—policies to protect our environment, but that is not at all the same as limiting car ownership or removing the reality of mobility from those who now see its promise. We should not forget that many people have attained a certain freedom for the first time through the ownership of a motor car.
Over 90 per cent. of passenger miles are travelled by road and 8 per cent. by rail. Sixty-three per cent. of freight ton miles go by road and 18 per cent by rail. Of course these figures refer to total traffic, not simply the inter-urban situation. Even so, they illustrate clearly what would be involved in trying to shift any appreciable amount of traffic from road to rail.
The existing traffic on our inter-urban road system creates congestion and is intrusive in the towns and villages spread along our main roads. The heavy lorry 1208 in particular—so important to our economic prosperity—is often out of scale with its surroundings. Future growth in traffic will exacerbate these problems.
We need, therefore, to provide new and improved roads to cope with our present traffic and its growth, to aid our economy, including regional development, and our exports, and to provide the bypasses which are so vital if our towns, particularly those of historic interest, are to be relieved of the pressure of through traffic. Perhaps I could say in passing that often the most effective bypass, particularly where a number of towns are concerned, is a completely new route. I agree with my hon. Friend about that.
It is not necessarily the case, however, that a motorway will serve the most useful purpose. For example in Cornwall or East Anglia, where many improvements are in hand, we are not proposing to build motorways. The Cornish people do not want them, neither do the East Anglians. We are proposing that first-class trunk roads should bypass many towns and villages.
It is worth emphasising that, for all the publicity given to serious accidents on them, motorways are by far the safest roads we have. Thus, while carrying over 5 per cent. of traffic, only 2.7 per cent. of deaths, 1.3 per cent. of serious injuries and 1 per cent. of slight injuries occur in road accidents on them. I should underline this because sometimes, listening to some of the hysterical comments we hear, we might imagine that motorways were the most dangerous roads rather the the least dangerous.
It is for all these reasons that the Government have set out their intention of providing a strategic network of 3,500 miles of high-quality trunk road of which 2,000 miles will be motorway. Well over 1,000 miles is done. Much of the remainder will be improvements to and bpasses on the existing roads. This 3,500-mile network compares with an existing trunk road network in England of 6,400 miles and the existing rail network in Great Britain of 11,500 miles. None the less, this is a big programme—for example, Government expenditure on it will be about £247 million this year—which we are working up as quickly as possible, but road schemes are major investment projects, needing careful and thorough preparation, which inevitably takes time. 1209 Indeed, in judging performance it is important to remember that it is now taking nine or 10 years on average from the start of preparation—and this is not the same as the preparation list—on a major road scheme to its completion. Of course, each scheme is subjected to careful economic tests before approval.
With a programme of this size, made up of many individual schemes, there are inevitably fluctuations in the precise level of expenditure, mileage of road under construction, and so on, from year to year. My hon. Friend had some critical things to say on this score. In particular, mileage of motorway under construction is by no means a reliable measure of the scale of effort, both because a substantial part of the programme is not motorway at all and because of the greater complexity and higher levels of cost of new roads in urban and semiurban areas which are becoming very expensive. However, we expect to complete 100 miles of new road this year —a large proportion of which will be motorway—and over 175 miles next year, a large proportion of which also will be motorway.
We are, too, increasingly conscious of the need for particular care in the choice of corridors and lines for new roads and in their design and landscaping. This takes time, but I consider that it is time well spent.
Of course, we have paid considerable attention to the landscaping of new roads for many years now. The Secretary of State is advised by the Landscape Advisory Committee which is consulted on all major schemes, and Civic Trust awards have been won both by lengths of road such as the M6 in Westmorland and by individual structures, such as the Pennine Way footbridge on M62. Furthermore, we have recently had the report of the Urban Motorways Committee, whose recommendations we are applying to both urban and inter-urban roads, and the provisions of the Land Compensation Bill, now in its final stages in Parliament, will help us further to mitigate the effect of new roads. It will cost us, as taxpayers, tens of millions of pounds.
But with these new roads, which will be a part of our landscape for so many years, not only the finished design but 1210 the choice of route is of the utmost importance. The procedures laid down in the Highways Act provide an opportunity for public debate and inquiry before the line of a road is fixed, but it has become increasingly clear that the public need to be drawn in at an earlier stage—in fact, at the stage when a decision is made to work up one line in detail or, where appropriate, to concentrate attention on one particular corridor. Proposals to this effect have been put forward in the consultation document. "Participation in Road Planning" and experimental exhibitions—giving the public an opportunity to comment on alternative lines-have been mounted within the past two weeks for the M40 south of Banbury and for the Chelmsford bypass on A12. In all, the consultation period will last for at least six weeks. I hope that the public will respond by letting us have their views on the alternatives so that they can be taken fully into account before any decision is taken to work up one particular line in more detail.
I must emphasise that this consultation is additional to and in no way a replacement for the statutory procedures, which are unchanged. I want to make it quite plain—because doubts have been cast upon this by some people—that when the Secretary of State has an inspector's report and has to make a decision about statutory orders, he has a very real choice. He can confirm the orders as they stand, confirm them subject to modification or pursue further the investigation of alternative solutions. There are many examples where each course has been chosen.
A topical point of interest for my hon. Friend is that there is an exhibition at Ellesmere Port this week in connection with the M56 extension west of Hapsford. That is an instance of where the line has been published. It shows the great steps taken to keep the public informed both before and after publication. Of course, new developments like this consultation stage and the implementation of the Urban Motorways Committee recommendations take time, perhaps up to 12 months in difficult cases. But we hope that the result will be a better-located and designed road. I am sure that this will be well worth the time and effort involved.
1211 I have felt it worth while to go into what the inter-urban road programme is about in some detail as it is a subject on which there is a great deal of misunderstanding. We are concerned to enable road transport to play its part in our economic life. We are concerned that everyone should enjoy the mobility which the motor car can bring. We are concerned to relieve towns and villages of non-essential traffic, and concerned too that roads should not impinge on our towns and countryside more than they need. In short, our aim is not to build more and more miles of motorway for their own sake, but to provide new and improved roads—well designed, well land- 1212 scaped, in the right place—when they are justified.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this most important subject this evening and I think he will find that we are getting the balance right in the economic life of the country in providing the motorways and roads that are needed, and at the same time protecting and even enhancing the environment while taking the public more fully into our confidence than any previous Government have ever done.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes to Two o'clock.