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Road Programme

Volume 975: debated on Wednesday 5 December 1979

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7.

asked the Minister of Transport what is his current estimate for expenditure on road building for 1979–80.

The estimate is £566 million. In the answer that I gave yesterday to my hon. Friend the Member for Welling borough (Mr. Fry) I listed the schemes which I have decided should go ahead up to summer 1980, as soon as they are ready.

I welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement about these schemes, but is it not clear from the figure that he has given that we shall need to get longer service from our roads because of financial stringency? Surely that emphasises the overriding need to estimate the true track cost of heavy lorries. The Transport and Road Research Laboratory says that a 10 per cent. increase in axle loads can increase the structural damage to roads by 50 per cent.

It is for that reason that we set up the Armitage inquiry. We shall not take any decision on heavier lorries before the inquiry has reported.

Bearing in mind the heavy construction and repair costs of roads, would it not be better value for money to switch much of the traffic that does not need to go by road on to the railways?

I am in favour of British Railways carrying as much of the freight traffic as they possibly can. However, that does not make a case for abandoning our road programme. I believe that the view on both sides of the House is that we should have a balance.

Does the Minister appreciate that if we want to consolidate land chickens do it better than elephants? Surely it is not a question of axle loads but of tyre loads and pressures?

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the revenue from motorists, through oil and petrol taxes, greatly exceeds what we spend on roads and other means of transport? In that context, will the Minister consider what will happen to the condition of our roads this winter? They are short of capital investment, maintenance and repairs and will be a great handicap and danger to motorists.

We should wait for the winter before jumping to conclusions. Our provision for road investment and maintenance is fair in the overall context of public expenditure.