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M1 Motorway (Repairs)

Volume 82: debated on Monday 1 July 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the arrangements his Department has made for monitoring traffic on the M1 south of Bedfordshire from 2 to 16 July while extensive repairs are being done to the M1.

The arrangements for monitoring traffic include a considerably increased number of police patrols, video cameras positioned in the contraflow system and aerial surveillance during daylight hours. Everything practicable is being and will be done to keep traffic moving smoothly and safely.

As we do not want traffic in south Bedfordshire to come to a complete standstill between 2 and 16 July, will my hon. Friend assure me that there will be a sustained publicity campaign in the midlands, the north and Scotland, to try to persuade drivers to avoid that section of the M1 while repairs are done unless they have business in the south Bedfordshire area?

I assure my hon. Friend that every possible aspect of the national campaign has been and is being followed up. I have spent my time this morning in the M1 area, and the traffic was flowing freely. However, that will continue to happen only if those who normally use their cars on the M1 use the trains, as I have advised, during the repair period and the car parking that has been provided for them at Milton Keynes station, Birmingham international, Leagrave, Luton and St. Albans.

May I congratulate my hon. Friend on the good precautions that she has taken to avoid chaos on the M1? Never before have such tremendous efforts been made in advance, and those who use the M1, such as myself, are very grateful to her.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what she said. Provided that the advice that has been given out in the leaflet, through broadcasts, question sessions and so on is followed, I believe that we can keep the remaining traffic, which should be the heavy goods vehicles, on the M1. The other traffic can stay at home or use the railways or planes. The schemes that have been developed over many months are there to help the traveller while the essential work is done.

Does the Minister accept that the unprecedented closure of the M1 is due to the enormous increase in road freight over the past decade —[Interruption.] Whether or not that amuses the Secretary of State, it happens to be true, although he would not know, given his present job. In their policies, the Government appear to be determined to increase heavy road freight still further. Will the Minister give the House a guarantee that she will continue to resist Common Market pressure for 44-tonne lorries, before all our motorways have to be closed? Will the hon. Lady confirm that the only advice that she can offer regular travellers on the M1 is, as she said, to take the train or stay at home?

There is absolutely no question of 44-tonne lorries being acceptable in this country. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will help everybody else for once by getting it right in future. We are not closing the M1. The northbound traffic will go up the southbound carriageway, which has a narrow two-lane contraflow upon it. The M10 traffic will come on, go off round a roundabout and come straight back on after junction 8 where the 200-yard stretch is being renewed. The freight traffic on that stretch of the M1 is about a quarter of all traffic. The growth in the number of cars is even more than that of freight.

Is my hon. Friend aware that I have been a user of the M for more years than I care to remember? Would there not have been a reduction in the use of the motorway during August, when large numbers of the population are away on holiday? Has the right forthnight been selected for these difficult roadworks?

My hon. Friend is not quite right about the volume of traffic during the holiday season. It increases on that stretch of motorway, which is why we are seeking to do the work before the children's summer holidays start. We have chosen the best combination of long daylight hours, the drier weather, which we hope we shall see during the first fortnight of July, and the higher night ambient temperatures. It is not possible to have the best of each of those, but the best combination of all three makes it the right fortnight to get that essential work done.