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Road Congestion

Volume 474: debated on Tuesday 22 April 2008

We have given local authorities new powers and resources to tackle congestion. Additional resources are available through the transport innovation fund and the congestion performance fund.

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that her Department urgently holds talks with Stoke-on-Trent city council about the damaging impacts on road congestion and the worrying increased risks to pedestrians and other road users if the city council’s misguided and misinformed decision to close Trentham high school and Longton high school goes ahead?

I am afraid that I am not familiar with the school closures proposed in my hon. Friend’s constituency, although I know he has been a great champion for his constituents. Local councils should think seriously about congestion across their boroughs and make sensible local decisions that support tackling that. I would be happy to look into the case my hon. Friend raises, and to meet him to talk about it.

May I, as a Cheshire MP, pay my tribute to Gwyneth Dunwoody? She was a robustly independent socialist, and she did great credit to this House over many years.

Macclesfield in east Cheshire looks to Stoke-on-Trent, part of which is represented by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Flello), with great envy. Huge sums of money—multi-millions of pounds—have been spent on the A50 and the A500. Will the Secretary of State ensure that there is a fairer distribution of funds to other areas that need the sort of road improvement that has taken place in Stoke-on-Trent? Macclesfield deserves a better deal.

I certainly believe in devolution; all my political life I have argued that local authorities and regions should have more funds at their disposal and more authority about how they use those resources. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be pleased to learn that we have introduced the regional funding allocation, which gives local regions the power to determine what their own priorities are. I suggest that he makes the case to them that they should be spending the money in Macclesfield.

Does the Secretary of State agree that this approach should involve more park and ride schemes? If she does, does she also agree about the importance of discussion and agreement between her Department and the Department for Communities and Local Government, which often makes decisions on planning applications, to ensure that park and ride schemes, particularly those that can make a major contribution to reducing congestion, such as schemes on the A449 in my constituency, go ahead with all the normal safeguards as quickly as possible?

I agree with the point that my hon. Friend is making. Park and ride schemes can make a tremendous contribution to tackling congestion. In fact, local authorities should be free to determine how they tackle congestion in their local areas, and how they get people out of their cars and on to buses. I know that the local authorities are welcoming the powers that we are giving them to have more say over how buses are regulated. I hope that the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) will take that into account when she explains to local authorities up and down the country why the Conservatives voted against the Local Transport Bill just last month.

The highly successful and expanding port of Dover is putting 100 miles of lorries a day on to Kent’s road network. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to discuss with Kent county council measures to tackle the problems of Operation Stack and its knock-on effect on the wider road system?

I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris), who deals with these issues, is having lots of discussions, including some with Kent county council, about how to take container lorries off British roads and encourage freight on to the rail network. It is right that we examine these matters on a scheme-by-scheme basis across the country, and that we consider how we can move freight around in the most efficient way possible and how we can do that with the minimum impact on the environment. That is why last year we invested the single biggest sum for a generation—£150 million—in encouraging rail freight infrastructure and why, in the rail White Paper, we committed ourselves to investing another £200 million in the strategic freight network. Those investments will provide real benefits to the freight industry, and I hope that they will keep the lid on road container traffic and encourage more vehicles off the roads and on to rail.