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Road Congestion

Volume 586: debated on Thursday 23 October 2014

The Government have an ambitious strategy for tackling congestion and improving performance on our roads, as I think the whole House would acknowledge. This autumn we will set out our plans for a road investment strategy, with £24 billion to be spent on strategic roads up to 2021. For local roads, £7.4 billion will be spent in the next Parliament, and £1.5 billion funding from the local growth fund will bring forward vital schemes.

My right hon. Friend may well have an ambitious strategy, but it does not go as far as Mid Sussex. Is he aware that particularly in the towns of Haywards Heath and East Grinstead there have been frankly intolerable delays owing to works by the utilities? I want him to take a much, much tougher line with the utilities on how they handle traffic management so that they cease destroying the trading opportunities of towns that are trying to make much better of themselves.

As my right hon. Friend knows, I was in Sussex only last week looking at these very matters. There is no end to my strategic ambitions— geographically or in any other way. He is absolutely right that we need to take a tough line in ensuring that schemes do not have undesirable or unintended consequences. I will certainly look very closely at the circumstances he describes, and he can be absolutely certain of my toughness.

The pinch point fund is an excellent and cost-effective way of assisting with schemes such as the Blackheath lane roundabout in my constituency, and I urge my right hon. Friend to continue with it. However, there are even cheaper ways of reducing congestion, such as traffic light re-phasing and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) said, proper co-ordination of road works. Will the Minister also consider requiring local highway authorities to publish weekly information on delays caused by congestion in their areas in order to give them an incentive to do something about it and to give drivers the information they need to plan their journeys?

My hon. Friend will know that Staffordshire has been provided with local pinch point funding of £4.8 million to support three schemes: the Beacon business park growth point in Stafford, which was completed on 20 June 2014; the A50 to Alton growth corridor, which is due to be completed in March 2016; and the Gungate north-south link road in Tamworth, which is due for completion in March 2015. His idea of weekly reports is innovative and interesting, and I am more than happy to take it back to the Department. Once again, he has shown that he brings to this House fresh thinking that is most welcome.

Last week we had an excellent debate in the House on cycling. It was so good, in fact, that the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) said he was going to take up cycling, which we look forward to seeing. One of the benefits of cycling is that for every driver who moves on to a cycle, less road space is taken up. How much of the £100 million that the Minister has announced for new roads will benefit cycling?

It is a hallmark of this Government that we have taken cycling as seriously as we have, and that is in no small measure due to the work of the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill). All new road schemes must take account of cycling provision, and, although I am never unnecessarily partisan in this Chamber, as you know, Mr Speaker, I am not sure that previous Governments could have claimed that.

I welcome the Minister to his role. Congestion is, as we have heard, all too often made worse by the poor state of local roads. The Local Government Association has warned of a road maintenance “time bomb”. The Minister may think that everything is going swimmingly well, with funding competitions, which pre-date him, that rob Peter to pay Paul, but when the Public Accounts Committee says that it is

“very frustrating that the Department for Transport still has not got a grip on how it funds road maintenance”,

one might think that he would listen, so why will he not?

I always take that kind of analysis and scrutiny seriously. This Government are going to resurface 80% of roads, because we acknowledge the hon. Gentleman’s point about the effect of road condition on congestion. This Government are taking a more strategic approach, putting their money where their mouth is and listening to the kinds of arguments the hon. Gentleman has amplified.