Transport Questions: 4th December 2014
Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con): What plans he has to relieve congestion on roads.
The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr John Hayes): The Government have an ambitious strategy for tackling congestion and improving the performance of our roads. Our road investment strategy sets out plans to invest no less than £15 billion to enhance strategic roads between 2015 and 2021. The investment plan includes upgrading the M5 from Droitwich to Worcester South, expanding junction 6, improving capacity at junctions 5 and 7, and upgrading the section between junction 4a and junction 6 to smart motorway. These improvements will support growth in housing and jobs in South Worcestershire, address safety issues at the junctions and lead to improved journey times and reliability.
Mr Walker: Like motorists in the north and east of Worcester, I am delighted to see the investment in junction 6 of the M5, which will de-bottleneck traffic and unlock a huge amount of growth in our city. However, the southern link is a huge concern to motorists in the south and west of Worcester. May I urge the Minister to engage closely with me, my neighbouring MPs and Worcester county council on the case for full dualling of the southern link, including the Carrington bridge?
Mr Hayes: Barely a night goes by when I do not dream about the Powick roundabout and the Carrington bridge, as my hon. Friend knows, and I shall certainly continue the dialogue that he described. I think it would be useful to have a meeting with him and other local people, including county councillors, to decide what can be done in this local scheme. It would, of course, be a matter for local discretion, but none the less, if we can play a part in helping, we will.
Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab): The other week, my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) and I drove the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill), across the Pennines from Sheffield towards Manchester. I did not think he could understand how bad the Woodhead pass was, and why people willingly drove over it, until we took him back over the Snake pass. A few crawler lanes on the Woodhead might be a short-term sticking-plaster, but in the end it is a tunnel under the Pennines—after all, they are only 2,000 feet high—that is the real long-term answer. When is the review of such a project likely to start, who is likely to conduct it, and when, realistically, could work actually start if the go-ahead is given?
Mr Hayes: The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the issues around the Snake pass. I know there are safety concerns there, and I have obviously used the road myself. He knows that this Government have at their very heart the idea of a northern powerhouse. We are championing the interests of the north of England, perhaps to a greater degree than any previous Government. To that end, I shall look at all the specific questions that the hon. Gentleman asks on timing, on detail and on planning, and I shall be more than happy to address them directly with him.
Sir Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend direct his attention to junction 8 on the M11, the second name of which might be “Congestion”? Is he aware that the decision to site the motorway services area at the junction that is the main entrance to Stansted airport has been the cause of that and is now, apparently, being seen as a block to any plans for the housing that is needed in the area?
Mr Hayes: This is not the first time that my right hon. Friend has raised this matter. Indeed, since I became a Transport Minister, I have spent a good deal of my life answering his perfectly proper and assiduous inquiries and representations on behalf of his constituents on transport-related affairs. He is right that there is a history of congestion in that area, and I would be more than happy to look at it and take his advice and guidance on the matter.
Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): Back in September, the Public Accounts Committee described the Government’s approach to local road maintenance, which, as we know, is a major cause of congestion, as “ludicrous”. Now, despite the rather bashful claims that the Minister has made today about Monday’s road announcement, I have not actually heard members of the PAC queuing up to say that they have changed their mind. Does that not tell him something?
Mr Hayes: While I focus—understandably, I hope—on the major changes that we are making as a result of this unprecedented road investment strategy, this extraordinarily bold and long-term vision, the hon. Gentleman is right that local roads matter too. That is why we are spending just short of £1 billion a year, and why we have planned to resurface 80% of the roads in the whole country. All roads, in the end, are local, aren’t they, and local roads will not be neglected under this Administration.
- Sir Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): What recent steps he has taken to reduce congestion on roads. 
The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr John Hayes): The Government have an ambitious strategy for tackling congestion and improving the performance of our roads. As I have said, the road investment strategy sets out plans to invest £15 billion to enhance strategic roads between 2015 and 2021. The investment plan includes 15 schemes in Yorkshire and the north-east. In addition, as my right hon. Friend will know, East Riding has secured £4.4 million from the local growth fund for the Bridlington integrated transport plan phase 2.
Sir Greg Knight: Will my right hon. Friend take a further step towards securing his reputation as a radical politician by dealing with avoidable congestion? Is he aware that thousands of motorists travelling at non-rush hour times often find themselves stuck in a traffic jam at traffic lights for no reason whatsoever? Why cannot some of these traffic lights be turned off, as is done in other countries?
Mr Hayes: Among my right hon. Friend’s many distinctions is his chairmanship of the all-party historic vehicles group, of which I am merely a humble member. He will recognise that the kind of innovation—the kind of radicalism—that he suggests is always close to the heart of this Government and this Ministry. We do not have plans to do what he says, but I will certainly consider it. There are 15 schemes in Yorkshire and the north-east. Was it Pound who said that a genius can recognise 10 things but an ordinary man can recognise only one? I can recognise 15.
Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): The use of the hard shoulder as an extra lane on motorways at peak times has been shown to be successful in improving safety and reducing congestion. However, using the hard shoulder outside peak times will lead to a greater number of accidents, and the police have warned that it should not be done. Will the Minister look again at this policy and ensure that we do not see more deaths and serious incidents on our motorways as a result of using hard shoulders outside peak times when they are not needed?
Mr Hayes: The hon. Lady is right to recognise that smart motorways are partly about using the capacity of the hard shoulder as an important way of easing congestion. She is right, too, that safety has to be a prime consideration in all such matters, so we will look at the evidence. If the evidence suggests that we need to alter policy, we will, but my judgment is that so far it does not show that this behaviour is dangerous.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): The Secretary of State, in particular, will know how important the Shipley eastern bypass is in relieving congestion and stimulating economic activity in my constituency. The Government have given a considerable amount of money to the combined Labour west Yorkshire authorities for transport infrastructure schemes to relieve congestion. What steps will his Department take to make those Labour councils make sure that all parts of west Yorkshire benefit, not just their Labour heartlands?
Mr Hayes: My hon. Friend is right that when one looks at infrastructural spending one needs to do so on a consensual basis. For example, both Front-Bench teams will be working together on the Infrastructure Bill to make sure, irrespective of party, that it provides a foundation for the future. It is absolutely right that when we look at these things we should cut across narrow party divides.
Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): One of the best ways of tackling road congestion is to have proper inter-modal integration. The Minister might know that the M60-M67 junction interchange at Denton is not just one of the most dangerous in the country but one of the most congested, and currently subject to pinch-point infrastructure works. Next to it is Denton station, which has the most pathetic rail service in the country, with just one train, in one direction only, once a week. Will he bang heads together at Northern Trains, Network Rail and Transport for Greater Manchester so that we can have a proper train service from Denton into Manchester, as that will be crucial as part of the northern hub work?
Mr Speaker: I was going to suggest that the hon. Gentleman apply for an Adjournment debate on the subject until I realised that he had already had it.
Mr Hayes: Not for the first time, Mr Speaker, you took the words out of my mouth. The hon. Gentleman suggests that, as far as rail in his constituency is concerned, you can get there but you cannot get back. He is absolutely right to say that we should look at such things in an integrated way, and this is not the first time he has raised the issue: he has raised it a number of times in the Chamber. If he looks at the plans we announced earlier this week, he will see that, in relation to rail, ports and roads, we are working on the sort of integration he describes, to make sure that all modes of transport fit.
Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): On Monday 17 November I announced £25 million to support community transport providers, and that fund will provide hundreds of new minibuses to community transport operators in rural and isolated areas. Those groups help keep rural communities alive and independent, and it is vital to do all we can to support local voluntary operators in those areas.
Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): Last month, a child was hit by a car outside Flixton junior school in my constituency. Parents are worried about our children’s safety—more so—because Trafford council plans to withdraw 31 school road crossing patrols in the borough, including 23 in my constituency. Will the Minister join me in condemning the local authority’s short-sighted decision and urge it to put our children’s safety first?
Mr Goodwill: Obviously, the safety of our children outside school is paramount, which is why, for example, we have made it easier for local authorities to introduce 20 mph limits. I am pleased that we have retained the use of cameras for enforcement of parking restrictions on those zigzag lines. Spending on the type of patrol the hon. Lady mentions is a matter for local authorities. I am sure they will consider their priorities in that regard.
Mike Thornton (Eastleigh) (LD): Sections of the M27 in my constituency—the busiest motorway per mile in the country—are so noisy that local residents are unable to open their windows in the stifling summers that climate change has brought us, and that affects their health and sanity. My constituency continues to wait for resurfacing, so will the Minister please investigate the provision of effective noise barriers to save my residents’ health and sanity?
Mr Hayes: Yes, this issue is rightly raised by a number of hon. Members. We have taken action to reduce noise on some key roads and I hear what he says about the M27. There will be money for extensive resurfacing—we are talking about resurfacing 80% of the nation’s roads—and I will look at his case in that spirit.
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