asked Her Majesty's Government:
What are their plans for the widening of the M.25 and, in particular, the section linking the M.3 and the M.4.
My Lords, we announced last Thursday a package of improvements for the M.25 to ease congestion and prevent traffic diverting into local towns and villages. Among the measures were to continue preparing plans for the three-lane link roads on the busiest stretch of the motorway between Junctions 12 (M.3) and 15 (M.4).
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for sending me a copy of the proposals, which involve a 14-lane motorway between the M.3 and the M.40. Is he aware that the arguments for those proposals are depressingly familiar? Are they not the sort of arguments that are always used by the road lobby and his own Department of Transport? Will he accept and understand that increases in road transport cannot indefinitely be accommodated and encouraged without hurting the environment and indeed people's health? How does he reconcile his point of view and these proposals with the point of view of his right honourable friend Mr. Gummer, the Secretary of State for the Environment, who has said—I believe on a number of occasions—that present traffic growth cannot be sustained and will put us on the road to ruin?
My Lords, there is nothing environmentally friendly about the traffic jams that exist on the M.25. As the noble Lord will be only too well aware, the more the traffic is stationary, as it is between Junctions 12 and 15 for an average of around one hour a day and between Junctions 15 to 16 for around three hours a day, the less people benefit. Neither the local residents nor the environment benefit from that, and no one benefits from the resulting rat-runs. The AA has now gone to the trouble of producing a booklet to show where you can "rat-run".
My Lords, does the Minister remember when the Government built the M.25 and completely forgot that there was a crossing through the Dartford Tunnel of only one lane? It took 10 years before the bridge was built to relieve the congestion. Are arrangements being made to ensure that the bridge and/or the tunnel are enlarged to deal with the increase of traffic? The lack of planning was an absolute disgrace.
My Lords, I am happy to reassure the noble Lord that the Dartford Tunnel section is being reviewed for future provision. He will know as well as I do that the M.25 is the worst bottle-neck between Scotland and Europe.
My Lords, can the Minister say when the public inquiry is to be held into this regrettable proposal and who will conduct it? I speak as a local resident.
My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord does not give a warmer welcome to such an excellent proposal. A public inquiry will be held next year, but at this stage I am not sure who will conduct it.
My Lords, is it right that following the Government's public consultation 12,000 replies resulted, of which the overwhelming majority opposed the scheme? Is it right also, as my noble friend intimated, that Mr. Gummer said only yesterday that the Government's transport policy and Britain's international obligations to cut carbon dioxide emissions are on a collision course? Can the Minister confirm that 15 local Conservative Members of Parliament indicated their opposition to the Government's proposals? Does he consider, recalling the Prime Minister's recent aside, that such opposition is legitimate?
My Lords, what is clear, as I am sure your Lordships are aware, is that to do nothing is not an option in this case. We have a major problem on the M.25; we have a major problem with the surrounding villages and with the environment. The proposals put forward by the Government, which will go to public consultation, will do much to benefit the environment. They will speed the traffic flow and take the pressure off the local villages.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that that is precisely what was said when the M.25 was first being designed? Is not the Government's priority hopelessly distorted? This country needs the money which it is proposed to invest in this hopeless scheme invested in public transport.
My Lords, it is a great surprise that the noble Lord is not aware that for every £3 invested in public transport in the London area we invest only £1 in roads?
My Lords, does not my noble friend agree that the people who are complaining now and will complain in the future about the extension of the motorways will complain about the lack of planning by the Department of Transport in 10 years' time when not only the motorways but also the rat-runs are at a standstill?
My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. I look forward to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, giving up his car immediately to set a good example.
My Lords, has the noble Earl and his department not yet realised that building more and wider roads simply attracts more traffic? It does not solve the problem. Will he or his successor be coming forward in the future with proposals to widen parts of the M.25 to 28 lanes?
My Lords, the whole problem of cars and other vehicular traffic is of concern not only to this country but also to many other countries where there is over-congestion. We have an immediate problem on the M.25 that needs to be rectified for the benefit of all those who use the road, of the economy of this country and of local inhabitants.
My Lords, can the noble Earl assure the House that when the M.25 is widened service stations and lavatories will be provided? The mind boggles at the thought of people waiting three hours without moving. Can he say why no service stations of any sort are provided even now on the 120 miles of the M.40? When can we have that situation civilised, together with the roadways?
My Lords, I am delighted to have the support of the noble Lord. He will not have to wait for three hours; he will be all right.