§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Boscawen]1.48 am
§ Mr. Francis Maude (Warwickshire, North)
This is the first time that I have had the honour to raise a matter on the Adjournment. I could, perhaps, have picked a better night and I apologise to my hon. Friend the Minister for keeping him up so late. If we play to a less than packed House, I hope that he will accept that the subject is none the less intensely important and deserves serious consideration. I welcome my hon. Friend to his new responsibilities, which I gather largely concern the stratosphere, and apologise for bringing him down to earth with a bump in the west midlands.
It is proposed to build yet another major six-lane motorway in the west midlands. This would have a devastating effect, especially on north Warwickshire, which has already suffered inordinately from the ravages of motorway development. The M6 runs along its southern axis and the M42 is now being constructed for some 20 miles along the western side. My constituents greeted the latest proposal with great dismay and some even with disbelief. They felt that as the area had already suffered so much from motorways it should be exempt at least for a few years. But almost as soon as the first turf was cut for the construction of the M42 the proposal for a new motorway to circumvent Birmingham to the north was announced.
Mine is no Luddite argument based on opposition to motorways wherever they are and whatever the case for them. It is that the case for a full-scale six-lane motorway has simply not been. made. The evidence put before the Department by the independent consulting engineers does not support the need for such a motorway.
The proposal affects not only north Warwickshire but the neighbouring constituency of Sutton Coldfield, represented by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services, and the constituencies of my hon. Friends the Members for Staffordshire, South-East (Mr. Lightbown), for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) and for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth) who, no doubt, will make their own representations. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock and Burntwood wishes to contribute to this debate. The generally held view is that a case has not been made out to support the type of development suggested and that the upgrading of existing roads would meet the needs at a cost, however it is measured — in human, environmental or financial terms—which would be a fraction of that of a full-scale motorway.
No one denies the need for an overflow road or some accommodation for excess traffic, but it is patent to anyone who travels through Birmingham on the M6 that there is no desperate need at present. There is no endemic congestion of the type found on the Ml. Such congestion as there is occurs only at peak hours, which are considerably shorter in the west midlands than in the metropolis of London.
I wish to quote briefly from the independent engineers' assessment of the present flows on the M6 through the conurbation. The highest flows are on two sections. The assessment states:During the peak hours traffic flows on these sections are regularly over 5,000 vehicles per hour per carriageway and flows 324 of over 6,000 vehicles per hour have been recorded. On the section of M6 between junctions 6 and 8 typical daily flows are in excess of 90,000 vpd and peak hour flows are again over 5,000 vehicles per hour in one direction.The assessment further states that the maximum design flow for a dual three-lane urban motorway is 5,700 vehicles per hour per carriageway.
Even my mathematics can work out from that that the present motorway flows do not show a desperate need for an overflow route. At best, they show that there is some congestion and some need for an overflow road in the future. In support of that argument, I pray in aid the CBI. The CBI is never reticent in urging the case for capital investment in the infrastructure, but in its recent proposals for new roads and motorways a northern relief route for the west midlands is conspicuous by its absence.
The engineers' assessment and I, believe, the Department's figures suggest that between now and the design year of 2006, for which the new road is proposed, there will be an increase in traffic flows of between 20 and 50 per cent. Even the top figure does not begin to justify a proposal that would double the existing road capacity. It would, of course, justify some improvement to the existing network, and we would support that.
The assessment assumes the approval and building of the M40 between Oxford and Waterstock — the alternative motorway to the Ml. That would undoubtedly attract substantial traffic travelling from London to Birmingham. In my submission, the traffic projection for the use of the M6 should be discounted accordingly—and discounted to a much greater extent than the assessment allows.
I know that the traffic projections are worked out in a very peculiar way — a way that I do not understand. However, I think that even the officials responsible accept that making a traffic projection is very much drawing a bow at a venture. I have no doubt that I will be told that previous projections have turned out to have understated the need for the road. The fact is that many motorways increase traffic flows by making possible journeys that were previously impossible or at least inconvenient. Traffic projections tend to be self-fulfilling. When a traffic projection is exceeded, that does not necessarily mean that if the motorway had not been built there would have been a need for it.
The assessment argues for a six-lane motorway. It makes the curious assumption that, in order to obtain the full benefit of a relief route, one needs a road at least as good as the route being relieved. The argument is that one needs to entice traffic from the main road to the relief road by offering a journey time no longer than the free-flow journey on the main road. That argument must be nonsense. An overflow road is needed only when the main road is congested at peak hours or when road works require contraflow arrangements. All that drivers need to know, if they are to be encouraged to use the overflow road when it is needed, is that they can make the journey by the relief road slightly faster than by using the congested main road.
By upgrading existing roads, which would cost only about 30 per cent. as much as building a motorway, we would obtain nearly 100 per cent. of the benefit of the motorway. Another benefit of upgrading existing roads is that one would not need line orders in most cases. In some cases side road orders would still be needed, and 325 compulsory purchase orders, but in all probability the need for lengthy and costly two-stage public inquiries would be avoided.
There is a widespread belief in the west midlands that the proposal has been inspired by the belief that the need for a three-lane motorway stems from the lack of a longterm future for the M6. The defects in the M6 have been widely publicised. It is widely believed that, at some stage, the M6 will have to be substantially dismantled and rebuilt. In the summer I asked my hon. Friend the Minister of State whether that was correct. She assured me that a long-term future without major interruptions was expected for the M6. I urge my hon. Friend to repeat that assurance tonight. If he did so, my constituents would be greatly reassured.
There are a number of potential alternative routes that would affect my constituency. I am not indulging in the exercise of urging my hon. Friend to put the road in my next-door neighbour's constituency; I firmly argue that a full-scale motorway is not needed at all.
There are two options in terms of upgrading existing roads. One is the complete dualling of the A446, building two bridges at Curdworth and dualling from the Belfry roundabout to Bassett's Pole. That projection is rather curtly regarded as unsuitable in the consultation paper but, in my discussions, I have not found one person who can think of a reason why it is unsuitable. The idea has been envisaged before. Three-quarters of the route is already dual carriageway and it would be foolish to duplicate the existing dual carriageway by building a motorway next to it.
The second possibility is to use the existing Sutton Coldfield bypass, the A38. It is seriously under used and is sunk below the level of houses on its west side, which could be protected comparatively cheaply from the additional traffic noise. It is not used because it goes nowhere. It stops at a roundabout about one mile short of the M6. That one mile is nearly all derelict industrial land and I commend, as a considerably cheaper alternative, extending the A38 to the motorway.
All of the projected routes are funnelled through Bassett's Pole at the western tip of my constituency. Whatever happens, an underpass will have to be provided there—there is provision for it. That would give local residents better protection. Many people in north Warwickshire think that the evidence has been banked up in favour of the yellow route — a full-scale motorway thatt carves a swathe through the green belt. They think tha that is being done because it would provide an ex post facto justification for having built the M42 to three-lane standard between the M6 and the Dunton island. There is no other apparent justification, as it continues as a two-lane motorway. Details of how figures are presented also strengthen that supposition. The figures for the red route include houses on the west side of the A38, which could easily be protected from the effects of extra traffic. The figures for the disruption caused by and the cost of the red route are clearly considerably greater than for the yellow route.
Any developer, whether developing a motorway or houses, prefers to develop a green field site. Once he has got rid of the cows and the sheep and any unfortunate souls who persist in attempting to make a living from the land, he has a comparatively simple task. He has only to bring 326 in the bulldozers and the concrete mixers. It is much more bothersome to work on an existing road. There is also the effect of the green belt. The market price of the land is reduced because private development is prohibited. The paradox is that the green belt makes development by the public utilities much more attractive because the cost of development is much lower. I urge my hon. Friend to resist such arguments as they have done much damage elsewhere. Development of the yellow route would also form a natural eastern boundary for the conurbation and make it impossible to resist development inside it, so yet more villages and hamlets would be swallowed up.
The Department's announcement of the alternative route caused widespread dismay. Nothing that Governments do has more direct and devastating effect on people's lives than building a motorway. Sound-proofing can be provided, but I know from experience, as many of my constituents were affected by the construction of the M42, how difficult that is and how often, when making representations to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, I received the argument that, although there was a case for sound-proofing, the money for providing an earth mound or sound barrier could not be justified when so few people would benefit. I reject that argument, because the cost of providing protection must be encompassed within the projected costs of the road. It is no good cutting the cloth and then trying to alter the size of it later. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister, who listened sympathetically to all my representations, persistent but, I hope, reasoned, and in many cases made special provision.
There is a feeling that the Department of Transport regards the building of roads as its principal function, and I know that much pressure and persuasion comes from the roads lobby. My hon. Friend has to act as an umpire. The ordinary individual whose life and livelihood can be devastated has no lobby in his favour. He sees the apparently inexorable advance of the bureaucratic machine, propelled by its own momentum, and feels helpless in its path. He does not always feel that in the past the Department has dealt fairly with individuals. When it comes to the public inquiry, the individual feels that the game is lost before it starts. Th Secretary of State has to act as a judge in his own cause. If the Secretary of State is dealing with an airport, for example, someone else proposes, and he disposes. In this, he proposes and disposes.
Even worse is the fact that the proposals stem from civil servants who provide the advice and draft the decision. People feel that there is little that they can do. They look to the Conservative Government to protect the individual against the power of the state, and to preserve natural justice where an administrative decision can disasterously impinge on human rights.
It would allay much anxiety if my hon. Friend would announce tonight that a review of the procedures to guarantee this is to be set in hand. I urge him to conduct a most searching examination of the case for the new motorway. I am sure that he will be as concerned as we are to see that legitimate needs can be adequately met by the solution of upgrading with benefits at the same time in human, environmental and financial terms. My constituents look to him to protect them from this devastating proposal, and I earnestly entreat him to hear their plea.
§ 2.7 am
§ Mr. Gerald Howarth (Cannock and Burntwood)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Warwickshire, North (Mr. Maude) for allowing me to speak in the debate. I shall be brief. He has made some cogent points, and argued his case forcefully. I shall refer to the other end of the proposed relief road, which would run through my constituency, and in particular to the bit that runs between Essington and the A38 and the A446-A5 roundabout.
As my hon. Friend has said, there are traffic jams on the M6 at peak times, and they cause severe congestion. It is accepted that some relief is necessary. The Staffordshire county council, the Cannock Chase district council and the Lichfield district council have all shown a preference for the green route, because they believe that it will provide additional motorway development for the industrial areas that they seek to regenerate. I understand this, but I have constituents who are extremely concerned, as my hon. Friend has so ably explained, at the possibility of a big six-lane motorway going through rural areas.
I support my hon. Friend in his campaign for the upgrading of the A5 and the other roads rather than making a new motorway. The A5 is a long-established Roman and trunk road, and its upgrading would be an infinitely preferable solution. It would be of particular benefit to my constituents in the village of Norton Canes as the green route would run right by the village, in parallel with the existing A5. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will pay heed to my plea.
§ 2.9 am
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Michael Spicer)
I have nine minutes in which to respond to the debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Warwickshire, North (Mr. Maude) —ably supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth) — on having raised a subject which is important not only for their constituencies but for the west midlands as a whole.
The issue has also to be seen in its national context. The M6 motorway plays a vital role in the country's national road network, and I am happy to give my hon. Friend the Member for Warwickshire, North the firm assurance for which he asks about the future of the M6. It provides the only high standard link between the major centres of population in the north-west and the south of England, as well as a main link with Scotland.
Traffic aiming for the tourist attractions of the south-west, the south coast ports or the south-east, all uses the M6, and in doing so that traffic will have to pass through the west midlands, which in a very real sense, therefore, is at the crossroads of our national road network. That means that traffic flows on stretches of the M6 through the west midlands are very high indeed, as is recognised by both my hon. Friends.
Where the M6 passes through the west midlands conurbation, the traffic flows are almost among the highest in the country. Between junctions 8 and 10, for example, there is an average of 100,000 vehicles a day, and flows of 120,000 vehicles a day are regularly recorded. At peak times during the summer, one-way daily flows of 68,000 vehicles have been recorded. Those flows are, first, a powerful indication of the success of the M6, but they are also way in excess of what the road can comfortably carry.
Undoubtedly, one of the reasons for that is that much of the traffic on that part of the M6 is local. That leads to 328 weaving between junctions, which is an additional hazard. What is more, about 30 per cent. of the traffic is composed of heavy goods vehicles, and that also means that the effective capacity of the road is greatly reduced. All this imposes a tremendous strain on a single stretch of motorway. It leaves very little scope for manoeuvre when accidents occur or when maintenance work is required. Anyone who regularly uses that stretch of the motorway will know that driving conditions, particularly at peak times, are difficult and often unpleasant.
As far as we can see for the future—I understand my hon. Friend's scepticism about some of the traffic forecasts—the traffic volumes will increase, and that will put even greater pressures on the M6. Traffic management measures will help to ease the situation a little but they can be of only limited benefit. The problem will be further aggravated by the continuing need for regular maintenance. In the long term, the only answer to the sort of traffic pressures that we are facing on the M6 through the west midlands is in one way or another to provide the additional road capacity. I think that both my hon. Friends accepted that.
None of the problems has arisen overnight. It has been evident for several years that some relief to the M6 was needed. There are only two basic choices — either to improve the existing roads, as recommended by my hon. Friends, or to build a new one. My hon. Friend has very forcefully expressed his view that the answer is to improve existing routes around the north of the west midlands conurbation. He has in particular suggested the upgrading of the A38 north of Minworth and the provision of dual carriageway on the A5 westwards to the M6.
The costs involved in improving an existing route to modern standards are in practice of much the same order as building a new route, and frequently more. There are invariably problems associated with existing properties fronting on to such routes, in terms of disruption—or indeed demolition—and of maintaining access. There are also significant engineering problems which have to be overcome — for example, with the under-passing of junctions.
We have also looked very hard at the possibility of widening the M6. Much of the M6, unfortunately, is constructed on an elevated viaduct, and the cost of widening it perhaps to a four-lane dual carriageway would be very high. It would increase the capacity in rather a limited way.
The other main alternative is to build a new road. Deciding on the best options for a new route has been a considerable task. There are many alternatives within the broad corridor through which a new road would have to pass. We have looked at over 30 possible routes. In reducing these to a manageable number, we had to take many factors into account. The choice of alternatives was the result of a great deal of detailed work.
I do not have the time to describe in detail each of the selected alternative routes for the scheme, but I shall highlight some of the salient features. All the routes would run between the M6 north of Wolverhampton near Essington to the M6 near Coleshill. This covers the most heavily overloaded section of the M6 through the conurbation. There would be a connection with the M54 motorway to Telford. Any of these routes would comprise a road some 40 km to 45 km long and costing in total between £110 million and £130 million.
329 Earlier this year, we presented the selected alternative routes to the public. There were five options for the section of the route between Essington and Bassett's Pole and two options between Bassett's Pole and Coleshill. This public consultation exercise was a major effort. More than 25,000 leaflets were distributed to people living in the area affected by the proposals. A large number of people attended the exhibitions and over 6,000 people have returned the questionnaires. It has been an extremely effective exercise in consultation.
Inevitably, a wide range of responses has produced an equally wide-ranging spectrum of views. This has left us with the task of assessing all the views expressed and forming a judgment. Included in the comments received from the public are a number of alternative solutions. These include the possibility of improving the existing roads, as suggested by my hon. Friends. We will be considering them carefully before we come to a conclusion.
I am conscious of the fact that the present uncertainty, caused in part by the publishing of a number of alternative proposals for new routes, creates anxiety among those 330 living in the area concerned and, indeed, can lead to a certain amount of blighting of property. For this reason, we are anxious to reach as early a decision as possible and make an announcement in the early part of next year. This will be followed by the publication of draft statutory orders to give effect to our proposals. There will then be the whole process of statutory inquiry and draft orders. I do not have time to respond specifically to the point about the inquiry process, except to say that it involves the joint decisions of two Secretary's of State.
Subject to the outcome of the statutory processes, work could begin around 1990. If the choice were to upgrade, my advice is that we would have to go through much the same procedures as in building new routes. For instance, a considerable amount of new alignment would probably be necessary, even on an upgraded scheme. All those factors are being taken into account. My hon. Friend the Member for Warwickshire, North has raised these matters clearly. I assure him that, in our turn, we shall think carefully about what he has said.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at eighteen minutes past Two o' clock.