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Olympic Games 2012: Traffic

Volume 739: debated on Tuesday 17 July 2012

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what contingency plans they have made to deal with heavy traffic on key London roads when the Olympic route network becomes operational from 25 July.

My Lords, could I ask the noble Earl, Lord Howe, the Answer to the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper?

My Lords, I think the noble Lord got slightly confused there. The Olympic route network—the ORN—has been established to ensure the Games family get to events on time. Games lanes will operate flexibly and be open to all traffic when possible. Motorists should avoid central London and, like everyone, plan their journeys at the Get Ahead of the Games website. We have comprehensive traffic management plans in place and will be focused on getting people to their events on time and keeping London moving.

I thank the Minister for that Answer, which means that there is no contingency plan. There is no plan B. I will give an example of a major artery, and I declare an interest shared with many thousands of people in central London: I live on Southampton Row, a continuation of Kingsway, where there is one bus lane alongside one Olympic lane. In other words, it is a no-go area. The Evening Standard reported last Friday that Transport for London said that everyone could use the bus lane in those circumstances, but local officials say that is not the case. Is there not likely to be great confusion, at least after 25 July, leading to gridlock—which is of great concern for shops, buses, taxis and everyone in that area, and in similar areas around London—with no contingency plan in place?

My Lords, the noble Lord suggested that there is no contingency plan. There are very detailed contingency plans. For instance, Transport for London has designated alternative Olympic route network roads in case the primary Olympic route network becomes inoperative. As regards the problem that the noble Lord describes, I suggest that he consults the Get Ahead of the Games website. My officials tell me that I have to say “Get Ahead of the Games” in every single supplementary question I answer.

My Lords, would the Minister agree that complaining about having some traffic disruption during the world’s biggest event is a little like someone who has sat on a fire complaining about their backside burning?

My noble friend is absolutely right. The world is coming to London in 2012. Our transport system faces unprecedented challenges, and the Olympic route network is essential to ensuring that the transport system works at Games time and to making the Games a great success, as I am sure they will be.

My Lords, has the Minister tried to work the Get Ahead of the Games website? I am totally in favour of the Olympics and of seeing the signs on the roads. However, I wanted to find out whether I could come into London on a particular route. If the Minister tried the website, he would find it very difficult to find the answer.

My Lords, when I last answered a Question about the Olympic travel arrangements, I used the Get Ahead of the Games website, and it worked. Sometimes these websites take a little bit of getting used to. I urge noble Lords to persist with it. It is a very good tool, particularly to see which Tube stations will be very heavily congested, and at which times.

Could my noble friend confirm, or otherwise, that while the House is sitting, Members of the House may use the Olympic lanes when coming to and from the House?

My Lords, I suggest that that is an extremely unwise course of action. The policing of the Olympic lanes—the Games lanes—is similar to bus lanes. If the noble Lord thinks he can use a bus lane with impunity then he can try the Olympic lanes, but it is not something that I would recommend.

I find myself agreeing with the Minister that, of course, London has to offer a welcome to visitors from all over the world to these Games. The lanes are essential to the smooth running of the Games. Of course, there is already sufficient confusion and long tailbacks have been established on some routes and the lanes are not even in action yet. We must make every effort to make things clear to the public. Would the Minister strengthen the point that he made a moment ago that no privileged access to the ZiL lanes, apart from for Olympic officials, will be permitted and certainly not for Ministers of the Crown?

My Lords, I can assure the House that Ministers of the Crown do not have any privileges in regard to the use of the Games lanes, with the exception of when advised to use them by the security services, and that will apply to very few Ministers indeed.

My Lords, how can the House have confidence in all the contingency plans here and there when, if we are to believe today’s press, a coach driver taking an Olympic team to the stadium could not find his way and took four hours to get there? He could not read a sat-nav and apparently was directed to the stadium only when someone managed to find it on their mobile phone.

My Lords, I expect all noble Lords have had a sat-nav moment. I certainly have in my driving career. LOCOG knows where all the Olympic coaches operated by it are on the Olympic network and, if something goes wrong, LOCOG will know. I do not know the full details about the coach to which the noble Lord refers, but I can assure noble Lords that LOCOG has a good system for managing the coaches.