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Volume 229: debated on Thursday 22 July 1993

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To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he has anything to add to his answer of 19 July concerning the additional flows of vehicles on the M25 motorway expected from the construction of a single additional lane; and what approximate increase he expects in vehicle flows in vehicles per hour and in overall percentage terms.

I have nothing to add to my answer of 19 July, Official Report, columns 75–76.

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what studies he has made of delays on motorways occasioned by various factors, other than traffic demand; and if he will now make a comprehensive study of all causes of delay on the M25 before authorising public expenditure on additional lanes or new parallel roads.

Studies have been made of roadworks sites from which estimates of delays can be made. We also currently have a research contract running to study the effects of incidents, for example, accidents and breakdowns, on the operation of motorways generally which will enable delays due to such incidents to be estimated.I have no plans for a study of delays for the M25.

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what measurements have been made of delays to vehicles wishing to join the M25 motorway between its intersections with the M3 and M40, other than those occasioned by accidents, shed loads, roadworks or other non-demand factors.

No measurements have been made of delays to traffic wishing to join the M25 between its junctions with the M3 and M40 from any causes.

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement about his plans for improving the M25.

The M25 is the hub of the national motorway network. Many other motorways—M1, M40, M4, M3, M23, M20, M11 and Al(M) lead off it. It is, therefore, a key component in the movement of long-distance national and international traffic, in particular by enabling traffic from the midlands and the north of England to reach the south-east and the channel without going through London. It is essential for our industry and commerce, upon which we depend for our further economic prosperity, that it should work effectively. Besides its national importance, it is also very important at the regional level, playing a major part in the economic development of the south-east.This importance is reflected in its very heavy use. The White Paper "Roads for Prosperity", published in May 1989, announced plans to widen the whole of the motorway to dual four-lane standard as part of the motorway widening programme. Work on this is proceeding. Widening between junctions 15 and 16 is currently in progress and earlier this year we consulted local interests on our proposals for widening within existing highway boundaries between junctions 7 and 8 and 10 and 11.However, it has become clear that on certain sections in particular traffic volumes have been rising and will continue to rise to the point where dual four lanes will not be enough to prevent chronic congestion. This problem is particularly acute on the section between junctions 12 and 15—between the M3 and the M4. That is why, as a first phase, we published in June 1992 proposals for dual three-lane link roads to augment the existing dual four-lane road. Although these proposals were welcomed in some quarters, they attracted understandable concern in others, particularly from those living near the motorway. I have, therefore, considered very carefully all the issues raised by those who question the justification for these proposals. My conclusion is that the balance of public interest lies in taking these proposals forward and that the link roads should proceed to the next stage in the statutory process.In reaching my conclusion, I have looked particularly carefully at alternatives to the link road proposals. I do not believe that any of these would be an adequate response to the magnitude of the problem. Even with improved traffic management, such as the pilot scheme I have recently announced for controlled motorway operation, additional capacity will be needed. Without it, heavy lorries and other long-distance traffic will increasingly divert to the local road network to the point where conditions become intolerable for local people. Nor is increased use of rail transport a feasible option; there are no existing lines able to cope with the variety of journeys of those using the motorway and it is unrealistic to consider building new lines, nor would they match up to requirements. The link roads, moreover, are designed for purposes other than commuting and other journeys into London.Junctions 12 to 15 present the most pressing problem, which we have addressed first. But junctions 15 to 16 between the M4 and the M40 will also present a serious congestion problem in future, even after current widening to four lanes is completed. I am therefore today launching a public consultation on link roads on this stretch as well.However, in deciding to proceed to public inquiry for junctions 12 to 15 and to launch a public consultation for junctions 15 to 16, I can give a number of assurances.First, I have no plans for similiar link roads around the whole of the motorway. I forsee no need at all for widening beyond D4 between junctions 3 to 10 and junctions 21 to 30. I cannot rule out the need for widening beyond D4 on the remaining stretches—junctions 10 to 12, junctions 16 to 21 and junctions 30 to 3. The need for this will not become clear until future work has been carried out by consultants and any proposals would not necessarily be in the form of dual three-lane link roads. A solution involving fewer additional lanes might be acceptable.Secondly, I am determined that the greatest attention should be given to the environmental aspects of the proposals. The fact that we are intending to devote some two thirds of the land taken on junctions 12 to 15 to mitigation measures, including extensive landscaping and planting, not only shows my enthusiam for this but means that there will be considerable landscaping and noise barrier improvements over the existing section. And the proposals will naturally be subject to a very full environmental impact assessment in conformity with EC directives and the Department's new manual of environmental assessment, which can be considered at the inquiry.Thirdly, my intention to proceed with the link roads does not imply any diminution in the Government's committment in the regional strategy for the south-east to encourage investment to the east of London. We have a very substantial programme of investment in road improvements to the east to which we shall continue to give high priority within the public spending constraints we face. For example, work is starting this year on the £200 million Hackney-M11 link.Fourthly, the Government continue to be strongly committed to improving conditions for rail users on Network SouthEast and users of other public transport. Last year, investment in London Transport and Network SouthEast was running at three times that in roads in London. The citizens charter commits us to improving conditions for both road and rail users and I intend to honour this commitment.The Government are currently consulting on the introduction of charges or tolls for the motorway network — "Paying for Better Motorways", Cm. 2200. No decisions have yet been taken, but if the Government decide to pursue a policy of charging or tolling and the necessary legislation is passed by Parliament, the M25, including the link roads, could be part of the charged network. I do not expect any motorway charging system that might be introduced in the future to remove the urgent need to increase the capacity of these already over-used sections of the M25. Depending on the results of the consultation exercise and subsequent decisions and legislation, these and other motorways widening schemes could also be candidates for private financing.A copy of the detailed departmental response to the proposals for junctions 12 to 15 has been placed in the Library. Copies have already been circulated to those who commented and other interested parties. Copies of the public consultation document on junctions 15 to 16 are also available.