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Primary Roads (Edinburgh)

Volume 173: debated on Thursday 24 May 1990

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11.21 am

Question again proposed, That this House do now adjourn.

Since time has been taken out of this debate, perhaps the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) will take 10 minutes less for his Adjournment and will split the time with the hon. Member for Newbury (Sir M. McNair-Wilson), who has the following Adjournment debate.

I am grateful to you for that guidance, Mr. Speaker.

I welcome this opportunity to discuss in detail the Government's proposals for primary roads south of Edinburgh. I wish to make it clear at the outset that, in my view, the consultation process in which the Government engaged, through the Scottish Office and the roads directorate, to get as open and extensive a debate as possible on the consultation document published last October was also welcome. It was a positive exercise, with the number of responses, at more than 200, providing constructive and helpful contributions. It has been a useful way to proceed when such important decisions are being taken. Therefore, I have no quibble with the process that led to the recent Government announcements and conclusions following the study.

The report having drawn extensively on responses from the general public, the Government's position has now been made clear. The purpose of this debate is to probe further the intentions of the roads directorate and Government policy in general. Clarification is needed of some of the consequences of the decisions that have been announced, and in this debate it may be helpful for me to cite some of the views of my constituents.

There were three main subject areas of the consultation process on the routes south of Edinburgh, and they are laid out in order in the Government's response. The first was the question of access to border towns; the second, the question of the future improvement of the A1 between Edinburgh and Newcastle; and the third, the new Government proposals for the M74 and M8 fast link and the prospective tolls provision for the building of that new road.

The conclusions of the report are good so far as they go, but, certainly in relation to my constituency, they do not go far enough. The provision is adequate for access to the border area but not for travellers southwards from the principal border towns. In other words, the northern section of the region will be properly served as a result of the announcements contained in the document, but not the southern half of the region.

I accept that there is never enough money, particularly for projects like roads and capital infrastructure investment. I also accept that there are equally strong competing claims from other regions, and the debate on transport in the Scottish Grand Committee illustrated that, for the Minister was bombarded on all sides by constituency claims from hon. Members.

Nor do I believe that every trunk route can be brought up to either dual carriageway or motorway standard. But there is an argument for claiming that the planning period covered by the study is extremely long. It will last for 15 or perhaps 20 years and during that time many far-reaching changes will take place in society as a whole and in the areas to be served by the new roads. For example, there are bound to be great changes in the development of tourism, which is crucial to the future of the border area.

The provision being made in the Government's plans is not adequate for the planned routes south of the border region over the time scale about which we are speaking, and there are two particularly important aspects of that in my constituency. The first is the provision being made for the A1 south of Dunbar and the second is the provision being made southwards from Hawick to Carlisle.

Concerning the A1, I pay tribute to the members of the all-party campaign, the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Thompson), my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), and in particular the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson), who co-ordinated the all-party campaign which produced an excellent document which argued for the upgrading of the A1. It was entitled, "The A1—A Case for the Improvement to Dual Carriageway Standard between Newcastle and Edinburgh". Those hon. Members would have been in their places today to support the case I am making had they not had other important constituency engagements.

That campaign, which also involved the Minister's opposite number south of the border, from the Department of Transport, and key officials from, and members of, the local roads authorities involved, represented a worthwhile exercise and served to inform the debate that led to the Government's conclusions. Unfortunately, not all the arguments contained in it have been adequately taken into account.

The Minister should this morning say as much as possible about future provision in prospect for the A1 south of Dunbar, and, particularly for the purpose of this debate, the provision in the county of Berwickshire. I do not have time to rehearse all the arguments that have been made for the upgrading of the A1. The accident rate on the road is much too high and is a constant source of concern in my constituency. There are limited overtaking opportunities and drivers overtake on single carriageway stretches where the provision is extremely substandard.

There is increasing worry about the high volume of heavy goods traffic using the road, and positive recognition that it is a better all-weather route, with the road being kept open during the winter months. There is a strong case to be made for improving the road to improve journey times, and there is every reason to improve it to dual carriageway standard to avoid some of the difficulties that are occurring with the mixture of local, particularly agricultural, traffic with the through trunk road traffic that also uses the road.

On page 6 of the Government response, concerning their policy for the A1 between Newcastle and Edinburgh, it is said that it is their
"general policy to provide sections of improved road to allow safe overtaking opportunities and to improve road safety."
What does that mean? They also say that
"dual carriageway is not ruled out in the very long term."
Local people are wondering how long the "very long" is likely to be. There is strong feeling locally that rural sections of trunk routes should not be prejudiced simply because they travel through rural areas. A trunk route is a trunk route, whether it passes through arable countryside, or passes through or bypasses towns and villages as it makes its way south or north.

I want to ask, first, what the time scale is for improvements to the dualling of the A1 road south of Dunbar.

Second, has the Scottish Development Department made plans to make the A1 road on the northern side of the English border adequate to cope with the planned dualling of the road on the south, the English, side of the border? There is much local concern that the higher grade of road on the English side of the boundary will disgorge traffic at a high rate on to an inadequate section of the A1 on the southern side of the border. That will have safety implications in the future if something is not done about it in the short term.

Finally, when can we expect details of the work of the steering committee, which I am pleased the Government readily accepted when it was suggested by the all-party group that considered the future provision for the A1? When can we expect details to be announced about when the committee will start work, and what its detailed remit and the time scale for its work will be? We in the eastern side of the county of Berwickshire look with some envy at the excellent work that has been done on the A96 Inverness to Aberdeen road, and some of the route action studies that have been so successful in improving that road. I hope that similar criteria will be applied to the A1.

Page 8 of the report gives the Government's proposals for the A7 south of Hawick. It states:
"South of Hawick, improvements to the A7 will continue to be made to achieve specific local objectives, however. These will include a programme of accident remedial schemes and smaller improvement schemes where appropriate."
Will the Minister spell out exactly what that all adds up to? As he will know, Hawick is by far the biggest border constituency, and certainly the biggest community in my constituency. The Borders and that section of the Border community relates to communities in the south just as much, if not more than, to those in the north. Work is being done to develop Carlisle, south of Hawick, as a key road and rail junction. When one considers the prospect for the new European markets that will open in 1992 and all the aspects of the Borders' commerce and industry including textiles, electronics and tourism, it is obvious that there will be greater traffic flows in the period covered by the report.

There are no alternative rail links available to us. It is 20 years since the Waveley route was withdrawn from the Borders region, and the area has been suffering severely from lack of adequate transport provision ever since. There are psychological as well as social, commercial and tourist justifications for having a proper road south of Hawick, between Hawick and Carlisle. If the Government's plans are successful—I hope that they are—in dualling the A7 to Galashiels and improving the Galashiels to Hawick link, they will provide even more traffic to be served by a totally inadequate road south from Hawick. That problem will not go away, but will get worse before it gets better. It would be helpful if we could have some idea of the Government's plans to produce an improved standard of road for that stretch in the next 10 to 15 years.

I shall concentrate on the A7 south of Hawick at four different levels. I assume that there is no question but that the maintenance and repair of that stretch of road will continue to be adequate. May we have an assurance about that? Secondly, it would be helpful if the Minister could clarify what can be achieved by route action plans. I have already referred to the significant improvements made to the A96. I accept that significant improvements can be made, but what do they add up to? I understand that, perfectly properly, the Government are trying to reduce accidents by up to a third by the year 2000, and I support that because it is welcome. I also understand that some new money—not a large amount in the global totality of capital expenditure on roads—is available. How much of that money can we expect to be devoted to the A7 south of Hawick?

Thirdly, I understand that the local authority has identified half a dozen or so proposals for improvement schemes that would all come with a price tag of less than £1 million for each individual project. If carried out over a reasonable period—put into the planning process over the next five years—they would make a significant improvement to overtaking opportunities on the A7 south of Hawick. That would be just about adequate to cope with the road's present needs.

At the higher level there are two major road work schemes that would cost more than £1 million, although not much more. The Borders roads authority has identified them on the stretch of road from Hawick to the Dumfries boundary. If they could be brought into the planning process during a five-year period, they would bring the road up to a state at which it could be argued that it was beginning to be adequate to cope with the needs of the local community.

I know that the trunk and key principal road network review that the Government are undertaking for the road network in central Scotland will compete with some of the claims and requests that I am making this morning. However, according to the study, the total motorway budget is £650 million, so the amount of money that I am asking for is not extravagant in terms of the whole budget.

There is a degree of confusion about whether the Minister is coming to see us and, if he is, who he is coming to see. He kindly wrote to me about that, and an answer will clarify some of the confusion. If he comes—I hope that he does—I hope that he will not ignore either the roads authority or me. I recognise that there is a particular head of steam among the public in the town about the state of the A7 south of Hawick. It would be good if the Minister were prepared to come and expose himself to public opinion. If he is willing to come and discuss these important matters, I am sure that he would not dream of doing so without taking the roads authority and the sitting Members of Parliament into account.

As a result of the trunk road that goes straight through the centre of Hawick, there is internal traffic chaos at present that is building up unacceptably in the town. There are now real problems. I fully understand that some are claiming that we should have a bypass, but my information is that a bypass would take only 10 per cent. of the through traffic away from the town and so it will, by itself, not be a long-term solution. The only long-term solution would be internal new traffic arrangements with single flows in both the north and south directions to separate the trunk route traffic. In addition, the River Teviot will have to be crossed again by another bridge in order to rationalise the internal traffic congestion that is building up.

I hope that the Minister will not leave the local roads authority to rely on its section 94 consent but will substantially assist it with any major capital schemes to try to resolve some of the problems in Hawick. It would be helpful if he could say something about the time scale that will be used to deal with that problem. If we could have some reaction to the work that the local authority has done on the congestion, it would go a long way to alleviating some of the evident anxieties in the town.

As one of the principal users of trunk routes south of Edinburgh is the Lowland-Scottish Bus Group and there is a great deal of expectancy, anticipation and concern about the group's disposal in the near future, I hope that the Minister, if he has time, will say when we may expect a Government decision on that important matter.

11.39 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland
(Lord James Douglas-Hamilton)

I should tell the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) that the proposals for Lowland-Scottish are now being considered and we hope that a decision will soon be made. We are aware of the interest in that subject. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome for the consultation about routes south of Edinburgh. This is a worthwhile debate and I am keenly aware of the interest in the matter shown by the hon. Gentleman and by other hon. Members.

As I said in April, our consultation about routes south of Edinburgh was a successful exercise. There were more than 220 responses covering a wide range of interests. I announced at that time our response to the views that were presented and our decisions on the way ahead. Those will result in a package of major road improvements likely to cost upwards of £140 million which will complement and enhance the existing roads programmes.

We have set in hand the A1 past Dunglass improvement scheme which provides a bypass to Cockburnspath and quality overtaking opportunities. That work will begin in the summer. Secondly, we have announced plans and proposals for dualling sections of that route. I have announced that consultants will be appointed as soon as possible to start preparing a dualling scheme to Haddington bypassing Glasgow, and they will carry out detailed evaluation of further dualling in due course to Dunbar. It is envisaged that the dualling will initially terminate near Haddington, but that will be the subject of a feasibility study and safety will be taken into account.

A natural break point in traffic levels will be an appropriate point for the dualling to start. It is too early to comment on phasing of the further dualling past Haddington and onwards to Dunbar, but it may be possible to undertake the rolling programme for this work and it is likely that the same group of consultants will be used.

The hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) also expressed interest in this matter, and I shall deal quickly with the points that he made about heavy commercial traffic using the route to east coast ports. Our study considered all types of traffic using the route and concluded that dualling the whole road would not attract enough traffic to justify the high cost. The joint working group will lead local authorities to monitor the situation, and we shall also press on with the dualling to Haddington and with improvements east of Haddington.

Generally, we need and are developing an improvement strategy for the more likely traffic route south of Dunbar. Detailed plans will be prepared as quickly as possible on the dualling to Haddington. Consultants will be commissioned to prepare dualling plans as far as Dunbar and will consider phasing the work. It is certainly possible that the dual bypass of Haddington could follow at a fairly early stage and perhaps as a direct follow-up to the dualling up to the town.

I was asked about the planning timetable. The economic appraisal of road schemes looks forward over 30 years. The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire asked about the time scale for improvements. I am glad that he recognised that we are looking 15 to 20 years ahead and fully appreciated that there will be changes in traffic levels and society over that time. Our consultants for the main study looked at traffic levels, but the A1 steering group will continue to monitor traffic and councils, and other consultants who are looking at the A7 will also take a wide and long-term view.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the steering group. It will monitor traffic and, more immediately, will identify accident remedial and overtaking opportunity schemes. The time scale for accident remedial schemes can be rapid or immediate and there should be no delay in implementation. Other schemes may take longer to prepare, but I hope for early action in relation to overtaking.

The stretch of road which crosses the border will soon be considered by the steering group with a view to a possible joint dualling scheme in conjunction with the Department of Transport. I take the hon. Gentleman's point that there would be no sense in having a dual carriageway that suddenly stopped at what in road terms is an artificial border. He asked about A7 schemes that had been identified by regional councils. All possible schemes identified by councils or other parties will certainly be considered as part of the remit given for further study of proposals for the A7 south of Hawick. I agree that a single high quality carriageway is fully justified. The Tower to Dunbar scheme is an important step towards this, and in both England and Scotland the general policy for the A1 between Newcastle and Edinburgh is to provide sections of improved road to allow safe overtaking opportunities and improve road safety.

Work is now under way on the A96 Inverness to Aberdeen trunk road to develop techniques to identify effective sets of schemes which, taken together, prevent the build up of long platoons of traffic. That will be done by providing the necessary overtaking opportunities where they are needed and are most economic to provide.

It may be possible to take advantage of these new techniques to provide a similar improvement package for the A1. The hon. Gentleman is correct about that. That is why, following discussions with the hon. Members for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, for East Lothian, for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and for Wansbeck (Mr. Thompson), I announced that a steering group with representatives from local and central Government from north and south of the border will be formed to monitor traffic growth on the A1 and to develop a suitable programme of improvements. That has rightly been welcomed. Terms of reference are currently being drafted and will be considered at the first meeting of the group which it is expected will take place on 21 June. Invitations will shortly be sent out to the participating roads authorities.

The package of improvements that are planned for the A1 is likely to cost about £50 million and will provide substantial benefits to road users. The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire will be interested to know whether the steering group will include elected members. It will primarily be a technical working group and will therefore be at official level, but I am sure that regular reports will be made to elected representatives and of course we can always have meetings with elected representatives as and when they are required.

I shall now deal with the proposals for the Borders. The most important immediate improvements will be to the A68 Dalkeith bypass for which draft orders will be published in June. More generally, traffic volumes clearly show that the greatest need for the Borders is quality access to the capital. Such access would be greatly improved by our proposal to dual the A7 between Edinburgh and Galashiels. We shall appoint consultants to investigate possible alignments for this improvement and they will take full account of the environmental issues that are involved. The consultants will also consider the scope for further improvements between Galashiels and Hawick and will define the strategic benefits of an A68-A7 link.

The Borders communities will benefit substantially from our plans for the A68-A7 which are likely to cost at least £100 million. This major improvements programme will be further augmented by the route action plan that we are commissioning for south of Hawick. I am confident that this package of measures, which was formulated in the light of responses to our consultation paper, will provide a substantial improvement to the network.

I am aware of the anxiety that the hon. Gentleman expressed in connection with a section of the A7 south of Hawick. That road is important to the local economy, especially to the tourist and textile industries. The possibility of a bypass at Hawick can certainly be considered, but I cannot give a commitment at this stage. To be economically viable, an improved A7 would have to attract traffic from the M74, and, as motorways are the safest category of road, the consultants' study predicted a reduction in road safety. Money to fund the improvements cannot be diverted from the A74 project without economic and environmental penalties.

Constructing a three-lane M74 allows Scotland's main artery, the A74, to be kept fully open during the decade of construction. It also allows much of the new road to be constructed on line, thereby reducing severance and adverse environmental impacts on local communities and the surrounding countryside. For south of Hawick, improvements to the A7 will continue to be made to achieve specific local objectives. I have announced our intention to commission regional councils to design a route action plan. That will involve accident remedial schemes and smaller improvement schemes, especially for improving overtaking opportunities as and where appropriate. Langholm bypass is already in the traffic road programme and the required preparatory work and statutory procedures are under way. My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) made strong representations about the A7. He is very much involved because it runs through his constituency.

The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire may be assured that any proposals already identified by regional councils or others will be considered as a matter of course. I said in April that improvements from Galashiels to Hawick would together cost up to £20 million and that still more would be spent south of Hawick. That will bring substantial benefits and ensure that any traffic coming off the future dual carriageway at Galashiels will find a continuing high standard road on which it can travel safely.

The remit to the councils will also specifically include Hawick, where it is clear that some early improvements are required for trunk road traffic through the town itself. Consideration will be given to suitable traffic management measures in the town to provide more satisfactory arrangements for both through traffic and local people. The most advanced traffic signals are already located in the town of Hawick. They are the only signals of their sort currently in operation in Scotland. Our proposals for the Borders are expected to cost upwards of £100 million and will provide significant long-term benefits to the whole area. It is obviously necessary to introduce remedial action programmes for safety reasons.

It has been confirmed that the M74 fast link is a potentially useful addition to the Scottish road network. With a substantially increased public investment in motorways and trunk roads, especially in central and southern Scotland, resources for the project cannot be found in the foreseeable future without a significant impact on other schemes. It is intended further to examine the feasibility of introducing private finance. We have commissioned management consultants to hold detailed discussions with the many private sector interests that have indicated that they may wish to pursue the option of a privately funded fast link.

The proposals outlined in our route south of Edinburgh study are clear evidence of our substantial commitment to the improvement of the road network in south-east Scotland. I have already dealt with the hon. Gentleman's point about the dual carriageway stopping at the border and I have made our position clear. On the question of road improvements south of Dunbar and the costs involved, we must first assess need. The new steering group will advise us on the needs and the priorities. Of course, the Borders need access by a good A7 to the M6 and the motorway network. I agree that the A7 from Hawick to the border should be a good quality single carriageway and the remit to the consultants will reflect that. The consultants will also take full account of the need for a smooth transition over a safe, high-quality single carriageway south of Hawick.

I have already referred to our plans for Hawick. A bypass would be unlikely to bring the town a great deal of relief from traffic, and because of the surrounding hills it would be very expensive. It is likely that we will concentrate on traffic management measures, but I shall look to the regional councils for their advice on that matter.

I have another two minutes. That is what Mr. Speaker said.

My understanding is that Mr. Speaker asked the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) to reduce his speech by 10 minutes. I have now lost 10 minutes of my speech.

That was my clear understanding of Mr. Speaker's request. I should not dream of taking a single second from the next debate.

Safety on all trunk roads is of absolute priority. We intend route action programmes for remedial schemes to be prepared as quickly as possible and to be implemented without delay. Our proposals show that we have a strong commitment.

A trunk and key principal road network review for Scotland has been going on for some time. It is essential that the increased funds that we are providing are directed to the right places. The study is expected to be completed in about a year's time and we shall examine all the relevant issues.

The hon. Gentleman asked me about a meeting with Members of Parliament and those locally elected. The chief executive has contacted Mrs. Findlay-Maxwell and an approach has been made to me on behalf of the council and the elected members and the proper procedures will be followed. I look forward to suitable arrangements being made in due course. I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising these relevant and important matters.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In a speech in the House on Tuesday evening I mentioned the firm of Taylor Woodrow, with which I have a small professional interest which is registered in the Register of Members' Interests, and omitted to mention that interest before I made my speech. I am sorry about that. It was a complete oversight and I apologise.

Thank you. The hon. Gentleman has made his point, but it provides an opportunity for me to remind all hon. Members that during debates it is now a rule of the House—not a convention, as was previously the case—for every hon. Member to declare any relevant pecuniary interest or benefit of whatever nature, whether direct or indirect, that he may have had, may have or may be expecting to have. It is wise for hon. Members to declare that interest at the beginning of a speech.