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Transport: Road Building

Volume 748: debated on Tuesday 8 October 2013


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what forecasts for road traffic they used in setting their current road building programme.

My Lords, in July this year the Government published Investing in Britain’s Future and Action for Roads, which set out a package of investment and reforms for the strategic road network. This work drew on the Department for Transport’s 2013 national traffic forecasts, published alongside, to inform strategy for the network. However, the identification and selection of individual highway schemes for the national programme is based on local forecasts and National Trip End Model data, which feed into scheme appraisals.

I am grateful to the Minister for the reply, but is he aware—he probably is—that the development of accurate transport forecasts for traffic has not been achieved in the past 20 years? In fact, if 1990 forecasts had been met today, we would have 50% more traffic than we do. Therefore, what is the point of building more brand-new roads when existing ones are in such an awful state, when we could have more investment in buses, cycling and walking, and might even be able to fill in some of the potholes that cyclists regularly fall into?

My Lords, the department produces forecasts on a regular basis. Modelling is rarely, if ever, perfect, as we are predicting the future. However, we are confident that the forecasts are broadly in line with the traffic pattern. We are investing in existing roads. It is vital that Britain has an infrastructure system fit for the global race, which will involve investing in new as well as existing roads, including filling in those potholes. The department has investigated whether traffic has reached its peak and has concluded that it has not: nor is it likely to in the near future. The forecast is for total road traffic to rise by about 43% over the next 30 years.

My Lords, is it part of the active government policy on roads that motorists should wait for more than half an hour to cross the Black Cat roundabout where the A1 joins the A421? If it is not part of their active roads policy, when are the Government going to take some action to reduce that inordinate delay?

My Lords, since coming into office in 2010 the Government have completed a number of major road schemes and brought forward 26 new major schemes, so we are taking all the action necessary to repair and maintain our existing roads as well as filling in those potholes mentioned earlier by the noble Lord.

Although the point about potholes is academic, the structure of our highways network is deteriorating very rapidly. Would it not be better to concentrate our money on putting the existing roads in proper order and then dealing with some of the worst pinch points to which the previous speaker referred?

My Lords, that is exactly what the department is doing. The Government have made £800 million available for local councils to fill potholes and maintain and repair local roads so that we can see the traffic flow and avoid the congestion that we normally see in the mornings.

My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord in his enhanced responsibility for transport. I hope that he enjoys Question Time as much as his predecessor the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, obviously did. However, perhaps I may emphasise that he has got off to a rather weak start, as the roads programme on which he has commented is slipping drastically. The completion dates of more than half the major schemes that the Government have announced since the general election have slipped by more than a year. Why is the money not being spent, as several noble Lords have already emphasised, on successful maintenance of our existing road network? It is quite clear that the roads are a danger to many users, particularly cyclists, and also to cars when they hit potholes. We need attention and resources given to road maintenance.

My Lords, the Government are committing to the biggest programme of investment in roads since 1970. We will triple annual investment in major road schemes by 2020. Since coming into office we have completed eight major road schemes, brought forward 26 new major schemes to start during this Parliament and invested £300 million in 123 pinch-point projects on the national network. There is a lot happening and a lot of funding has been made available to make sure that our road infrastructure is well maintained.

My Lords, are the noble Lord and his department aware that the most expensive way of maintaining and repairing roads is to go round filling in potholes? That is well understood by most of the professionals in the industry and I hope that, one day, the department will catch on.

I agree with the noble Lord that it is expensive to fill potholes. However, it is important that we do it.

My Lords, will the Minister advise whether there could be some common-sense co-ordination between the various utility companies—gas, water, electricity and telecoms—to ensure that when they dig up the road they all get in there and do what they have to do? I have constantly experienced the road being dug up, sealed off and then dug up again by a different utility company. Surely common sense should prevail.

I agree with the noble Lord. It is a nuisance that roads are dug up quite often and there is a huge traffic hold-up. I will certainly take this matter to the department to see what further action we can take to make sure that we minimise the traffic congestion.