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M1 Fire

Volume 527: debated on Thursday 5 May 2011

1. What assessment he has made of the effect on his Department's budget of repairs required to the M1 following the recent fire. (54153)

I want to praise the effective firefighting by Green Watch of the London fire brigade, particularly led by Mill Hill fire station, at the incident on the M1. I also want to praise the Highways Agency and Connect Plus for doing so much work underneath the bridge, which I saw myself.

That section of the M1 is under a managed contract agreement with Connect Plus. The contract indicates that there is a repair and insurance responsibility to the contractor, and no costs will be borne by the Department for Transport.

The incident occurred over the busiest weekend at Wembley stadium, where the FA cup semi-finals were taking place. It affected three of the teams quite severely—although it did not affect Manchester United fans from Surrey very much. [Laughter.] Members got it in the end. It also caused traffic congestion on the M40 and throughout my constituency. What action will the Minister take to ensure that across the country there is appropriate storage under motorways in future?

For most of that weekend I was underneath the bridge once the fire was finished and while remedial work was done to install 250 tonnes of steel to secure the bridge so that it could be reopened. The Secretary of Sate has already announced a review of what works can be done and what can be stored under bridges. When that review reports in the next few weeks, we will look carefully at its findings.

After 17 years of using the M1 between Rotherham and London, I know that it is always under repair on one stretch or another. Is part of the problem that the M1 is used as a suburban rat-run around the big conurbations? Might we not consider introducing a motorway vignette, so that people who use the motorways pay a little extra, we help reduce the deficit and we discourage the urban-dwellers around the M1 from using it as an ordinary road?

In 13 years of a Labour Government, they rejected plans for doing that, and so have this Government. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman can blame the M1 for a fire that was underneath it, which reached a temperature of up to 1,000 degrees and buckled the reinforcement bars. The Highways Agency and Connect Plus did a fantastic job. It is sad that there was so much disruption, but they did the work as fast as they could.

I associate myself with the Minister's comments about the Mill Hill firefighters, who worked so hard at the location and in helping local residents. For many years, the councillor for the Hale ward on Barnet council, Councillor Hugh Rayner, has been supporting local residents on Ellesmere avenue in their calls for the scrapyard to be moved from its site under the M1. Does the Minister agree that while we should not act in a knee-jerk fashion and remove all businesses from under railways and motorway arches, we need to look carefully at what activities can be undertaken safely underneath motorways, and take action to ensure that inappropriate uses are eliminated?

It was a pleasure to meet my hon. Friend at the incident and at the site and it was a real pleasure to see the councillor responsible as well as the representative of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority. I also visited and praised Green Watch at the station.

It is important that the review looks carefully at what can and cannot be done under railway arches and roads. Different railway arches can have different structures. Once the review is forthcoming, we will look at it very carefully.