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Road Maintenance

Volume 547: debated on Thursday 28 June 2012

The Department is providing £3 billion over four years to 2014-15 to local highway authorities in England for roads for which they are responsible. We also provided £200 million in March 2011 to repair damage caused by the 2010 winter. The Highways Agency is responsible for operating, maintaining and improving the strategic road network in England, and this financial year its maintenance budget is £755 million, excluding costs associated with private finance initiative projects.

We know that the coalition’s manoeuvre of choice is the U-turn, so can the Transport Secretary or the Minister continue in that vein by reversing the Department’s decision to cut investment in Britain’s road network by £3.5 billion?

Again, I thought that the hon. Gentleman might have welcomed the £20 million that the Department gave to Merseyside yesterday for investment in local transport projects. I thought he might also have welcomed the fact that in cash terms the Department is providing more for road maintenance over this four-year period than his Government did over the previous four years.

May I welcome my hon. Friend’s announcement? North Yorkshire has the second longest rural road network, after Lincolnshire, and the most extreme winter conditions. How can we ensure that we get a fair slice of the extra money that has been announced?

I am happy to say that North Yorkshire also qualified for funding from the Department yesterday to help the Harrogate and Knaresborough sustainable transport package. We continue to fund road maintenance through the standard arrangements from the Department, as I indicated a moment ago.

The requirement for large expenditure on road maintenance arises overwhelmingly from the heavy axle weights of lorries, so is it not sensible to look at schemes for transferring vast volumes of road freight on to rail? Will the Government look seriously at schemes for transporting lorry trailers and lorries on trains throughout Britain?

I entirely sympathise with that question. We are taking steps to improve the amount of freight that can be transported by rail. The rail Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs Villiers), is busy activating that. We have improved the gauge from Southampton and the rail line from Felixstowe, and we hope to make further improvements. Of course our high-speed rail plans will free up space on the existing north-south routes.