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Road Casualties

Volume 205: debated on Monday 9 March 1992

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To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what asssessment he has made of the contribution the road-building programme can make to reducing road casualties.

It is currently estimated that, for every £100 million invested in trunk road improvements, about 100 road deaths and 4,500 casualties are saved over a 30-year period. The House will be pleased to know that in 1991 there appear to have been lower fatalities on our roads than in any year since the 1940s, despite a ninefold increase in the amount of traffic.

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for that reply which shows that the programme for road improvements not only increases traffic flows and reduces congestion but makes a direct and positive contribution to the reduction of road casualties. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend will know that in areas such as mine, which has the A5 running through it, the improvements have been greatly appreciated. My Conservative county council strongly supports the Government target of reducing accidents by one third by the year 2000. Has my right hon. and learned Friend any thoughts on the implications of delaying or abandoning the substantial road programme that he has proposed, such as is advocated by the Opposition?

That would indeed have a serious effect. For example, this morning we announced the spending of £760 million on road improvement projects in the forthcoming financial year. That is likely to save 700 lives and more than 30,000 casualties over the next 30 years. It is important for the Opposition to bear it in mind that their opposition to the roads programme is a recipe not only for increased congestion but for increased fatalities and casualties on our roads.

About 12 months ago, I asked the Secretary of State a question about the safety of the lighting on the M6. It appears that the lighting has not been improved and that there are black holes all the way along the M6. Two particular spots with many accidents have been highlighted lately. Has the right hon. and learned Gentleman any proposal to improve the lighting on the M6 where black holes exist?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have major proposals to widen the M6 and obviously the lighting on part of that road will be improved when the proposals are implemented. We give serious consideration to safety recommendations and, where lighting would make an important contribution to reducing casualties, it is an important factor.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the Winchester bypass is one of the most dangerous pieces of road in the country? The latest figures show that the death and serious injury rate on that road is five times the national motorway average. There is widespread support for completing that road at the earliest opportunity. The proposition that it passes through one of the most beautiful parts of England is total nonsense, because it passes through what is virtually surburban Southampton. Opposition comes mainly from a handful of self-interested people and some foreign thugs. Will my right hon. and learned Friend do everything that he can to complete that road as soon as possible?

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the serious congestion in the Winchester area. We attach importance to environmental considerations and the House will be aware that there have already been, I think, four public inquiries into the project over 20 years. It is crucial to make progress in completing the Winchester bypass as soon as possible. We are taking account of environmental considerations. There are substantial environmental benefits to be had from the proposed project because of the ability to reunite St. Catherine's hill with the town of Winchester. At the moment the two areas are divorced by a road that will revert to green fields when the project is complete.

The Secretary of State's new £750 million road electoral bribe is something old, something borrowed and something blue. The programme contains a promise to improve the M25 between junctions 15 and 16. However, Tory party central office says that the M25 will be widened to four lanes at a cost of £4 billion. Who are we to believe—the Secretary of State for Transport or Tory party central office in a different statement which was issued this afternoon?

I am glad to see that the hon. Gentleman is holding a copy of our document headed "Labour's Threat to Road Projects". I trust that he will not only read it but absorb its implications. If he does, he will recognise the serious warning by the Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors that if a Labour Government imposed a freeze on the roads programme, up to 20,000 jobs could be lost in the construction industry. I trust that he will take account of the road safety dangers that are inherent in his policy. Finally, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will remind his colleagues in the shadow Cabinet, including the shadow Chancellor, that they should not advocate major road projects in their constituencies at the same time as the Labour party seeks to impede progress elsewhere in the country.