Questions posed to the Secretary of State during Transport Questions relating to transport safety included:
Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): What progress his Department has made on its study of proposals to dual the remaining single carriageway sections of the A1.
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): The A1 north of Newcastle study is one of six studies to identify and fund solutions to a number of notorious and long-standing hot spots on the road network. The next working group takes place on 21 May to discuss the evidence review stage, after which the study will consider the potential investment options before making its recommendations later this year.
Sir Alan Beith: Since the Chief Secretary to the Treasury made a firm commitment a year ago and the Transport Secretary has given the scheme his strong personal support, can he get a move on? At the moment, with all these studies, it feels a bit like being stuck in slow-moving traffic on the A1.
Mr McLoughlin: I think we are making progress. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned in his question the fact that the Chief Secretary is involved. If the Chief Secretary and the Transport Secretary are of one mind on this, I very much hope that we will be able to make some progress.
Mr Nicholas Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne East) (Lab): What accounts for the delay between the tentative announcement of yet another study and the setting up of the study? What is left to be studied of this much-studied question? Will the Transport Secretary confirm to the House that the study is but a prelude to the commencement of the actual work?
Mr McLoughlin: I think I will look at the wording of that when I see it in Hansard. This is an important road and a lot of work has already gone on to widen the A1, as well as a lot of work that is being undertaken at present. We are now talking about the area north of Newcastle and it is important that when the works are being carried out, measures are put in place to deal with the environmental consequences and the objections that people might raise.
Natascha Engel (North East Derbyshire) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the adequacy of the amount of time allowed for pedestrians to use pedestrian crossings.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): Local councils are responsible for setting pedestrian crossing timings with reference to the guidance walking speed of 1.2 metres per second. The Department is conducting a review of traffic signing legislation, and once that is complete will consider the need to update the guidance.
Natascha Engel: Having rushed across many roads to get here in time for this question, I thank the Minister for his answer. Will he carry out that review as quickly as possible? The legislation has not been looked at since the 1950s and a recent review suggested that three quarters of elderly people struggle to cross the road before the signals change. Will he please look into the matter urgently?
Mr Goodwill: I certainly will. We are reviewing the situation. The green man is an invitation to cross. When the green man is extinguished, there is still time to cross. The updated puffin crossings have movement detectors, which allow extra time to be given. We are looking at other types of crossing as well, which will further improve the situation.
Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): What financial assistance he is providing to local authorities for the repair of potholes.
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): In the 2014 Budget, the Government announced a £200 million pothole fund for the financial year 2014-15. Some £168 million is being made availableto councils in England, including up to £10 million for London. This is enough to fix over 3 million potholes. The fund is a competition, and bidding guidance was published on 24 April detailing how local authorities can submit their bids to the Department for Transport by 22 May. This is in addition to the £4.7 billion that we are providing for local road maintenance in this Parliament.
Rehman Chishti: Medway council has filled nearly 4,000 potholes in just over 10 months, so it will welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement. However, Medway has also been affected by the emergence of sinkholes, including one at Rainham Mark grammar school. What are the Government doing to address the emergence of sinkholes across the country?
Mr McLoughlin: I am aware that a number of sinkholes appeared across the country during this year’s severe winter weather, including those that my hon. Friend has mentioned. The Government have been working, and will continue to work, with the British Geological Survey on sinkholes. It is important that any lessons learnt are shared with local authorities and other transport operators to ensure that our infrastructure has greater resilience against future severe weather events.
Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): Residents in the Queensbury, Northwick Park and Preston wards in my constituency would be very grateful if part of the remaining £50 million from the fund could make its way to the potholes in their wards. They would be even more pleased if those roads with extensive potholes could have a complete surface repair, because they are fed up with seeing potholes repaired one year and then having to be re-repaired the next winter. The money should be spent on solving the problem comprehensively, not addressing it in a piecemeal fashion.
Mr McLoughlin: I agree entirely. Some councils have shown excellent ways of doing that through a holistic approach, and I commend them for that. I was in Northampton recently to see what the local council has done there. It has taken on board the point the hon. Gentleman makes. I hope that other authorities will do likewise.
Rehman Chishti: Driver distraction is a major cause of death and serious injury on our roads, and it has been the focus of a leading campaign by the charity Brake. What are the Government doing to work with such organisations to tackle driver distraction? By way of a digression, I was given the “parliamentarian of the year” award by Brake for campaigning on road safety.
Mr McLoughlin: I have known of Brake’s work for many years, as one of its founding members was the relative of a victim who died in my constituency. I think that the whole question of driver distraction is important. I am still amazed by the number of people who use mobile phones while driving. In August 2013 the Government increased the penalty for using a mobile phone while driving from £60 to £100. I will look at the matter and review it in due course.
Mr Speaker: The hon. Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) deserves the hearty congratulations of the House, and I feel sure that the award is prominently displayed in his home.
Mel Stride (Central Devon) (Con): My right hon. Friend will know that many of the 8,000 miles of roads in Devon are blighted by potholes. Will he therefore join me in congratulating Devon county council on its online pothole advisory system and the efficient way in which it is tackling the problem? May I also press him to consider very seriously Devon county council’s bid for some of the additional funds that were announced in the Budget?
Mr McLoughlin: Indeed. Before the year-end, we allocated extra money to local authorities that they were encouraged to spend on potholes and to show how they had spent it. That will have a bearing on how we allocate the future fund for local authorities that the Chancellor made available in the Budget.
Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Lab): Does the Secretary of State share my profound concern that roadside recovery operators working on our motorways have been instructed that they must continue to work when they have asked for a lane closure, even for safety reasons, but the Highways Agency has refused that closure? This is putting people’s lives at risk. Will he order an urgent inquiry and put an immediate stop to this dangerous practice?
Mr Goodwill: I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that matter. It is the first time it has been brought to my attention, and I will certainly have a conversation with the Highways Agency. Our smart motorways schemes make it much easier to close lanes and move traffic, so it should not be a problem on those sections of road. I will get back to the hon. Gentleman with the reply I receive.
The other Transport Questions posed to the Secretary of State on 8th May did not relate to transport safety, but are available here on the Hansard website.