asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he will complete his reassessment of future traffic in the light of changes in the rate of population growth and of the rising price of fuel; and what effects this will have on his policy for roads.
As I announced on 17th June last year, I have reviewed the priorities for the road programme within the resources likely to be available over the next few years. As I then stated, I am satisfied that, after making full allowance for substantial shift of freight and passenger traffic from road to rail, a continuing national road programme is necessary on both economic and environmental grounds; although as the White Paper "Public Expenditure to 1978–79" (Cmnd. 5879) makes clear, this can no longer be regarded as a growth programme.The Transport and Road Research Laboratory has today published a report giving new forecasts of vehicles and traffic. This updates earlier forecasts and takes account of the rise in the price of fuel, the current economic outlook and the lower rate of population growth now expected.In the light of this work my Department is issuing today a technical memorandum giving guidance on the forecasts to be used for all departmental work on planning and design of roads. It will be made available at public inquiries and used to support individual schemes. The memorandum is based on current policy and forecasts. It will be kept constantly under review and amendments issued when necessary. Because of the inevitable uncertainties about trends in fuel prices and the rate of economic growth we have taken three sets of forecasts based on different assumptions—a most probable, a higher and a lower. In our present difficulties it is essential to ensure that valuable resources are not wasted by building roads before they are needed, and I am arranging that all my new road proposals shall be tested against the lowest forecasts. Even on such a cautious basis the total number of vehicles is forecast to continue to rise substantially so that the continuing national road programme is justified on both economic and environmental grounds.