Skip to main content

Roads: Congestion

Volume 783: debated on Tuesday 5 September 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to reduce inconvenience to individuals, and the losses to the economy, caused by pinch-points and congestion on roads.

My Lords, the Government are delivering a £23 billion programme of investment in England’s roads to improve journeys, reduce congestion and boost economic growth. The Government are also developing plans for future investment and have announced the proposed creation of a major road network that will see a share of the national road fund, funded by vehicle excise duty, given to local authorities to improve their major A-road networks.

My Lords, I travelled quite extensively in Britain this summer, and I learned at first hand that serious traffic problems are not confined to major roads or big cities like ours: they are all too common right across the country. As King Edward VIII said, “Something must be done”. Indeed, a perusal of the Department for Transport’s report is not wholly reassuring, showing more interest in the large projects than in these important smaller frustrations. Will the Minister kindly undertake to publish an analysis of such pinch-points, noting the authorities responsible —to which he referred—for putting them right, the plans for tackling them and, most important of all, the forecast completion dates?

I thank my noble friend for her Question. She makes an important point. She is right to highlight local road congestion and its impact on the economy and productivity. I will discuss her suggestion with my honourable friend Jesse Norman, the Roads Minister, but I will give her a few related facts.

As I said, we are investing record amounts in England’s roads. Of the £23 billion that I mentioned, which we are set to spend between 2015 and 2021, £15 billion will be dedicated to the upgrade of our strategic roads and motorways and major A roads, and the rest is to improve our local roads. The spring 2017 Budget announced that the National Productivity Investment Fund will allocate £690 million for local authorities in England for local transport networks from 2018-19 onwards. Some £490 million of that is available for the financial years 2018-19 and 2019-20 and will be allocated through a competition, which has already been launched, for which we have received 145 bids so far. We will announce the winning bids later this year.

My Lords, will the Minister commit to giving the same proportion of investment to the railways to reduce congestion and improve reliability?

As the noble Lord is aware, we are undertaking the largest programme of investment in railways since the Victorian era, so I am proud of our record of improving the railways. Of course, there is always more to be done, but we are having a pretty good stab at it so far.

My Lords, increased congestion has led to a halving of average city traffic speeds. That in turn means increased emissions and a reduction in the efficiency of bus services, which leads to a decline in the number of passengers travelling on them. Will the Minister outline what the Government are doing to assist bus services and to ensure that people are encouraged and enabled to use them?

The noble Baroness makes an important point. Again, we are investing enormously in expanding the bus network. Many local authorities are dedicating sections of the highway to bus-only networks, funded by grants from the Department for Transport. The bus network is improving massively in many of our great cities and rural areas, and we should be proud of that.

My Lords, the Minister has set out how much money is being spent, but in the light of this Question, clearly, it is not having much of an impact. The 2010-15 Government set up a fund for sorting out pinch-points in the road network, and this Question would suggest that it was not particularly successful. Can the Minister say how much money from that fund was spent, how many projects it covered and how many were put forward which were not supported? Has the fund continued, or was it only for a limited time-span? If the latter, why was it brought to an end, rather than continuing with it?

As I have said, we are spending record sums on local authority networks, including many of the pinch-points the noble Lord has identified. Between 2015 and 2021 we will be spending £1.548 billion on small-scale transport schemes, in addition to all the money I have already outlined that we are spending on major schemes. Of course, I fully accept that there will always be further demands on resources and there are always individual schemes that people can bring forward. It is a competitive bidding process, and we are prepared to receive submissions and bids from local authorities against the latest bidding round and in future bidding rounds. I think that we have a record to be proud of.

My Lords, may I offer my noble friend my support, at least, for the proposal to charge utilities and other companies for the rent of the roads while they are digging them up and impairing the traffic flow?

I thank my noble friend. We have trialled the lane rental scheme that we announced last week in London and Kent, where it has been extremely successful. The scheme has forced utilities to work together and at weekends and in the evenings in an attempt to reduce congestion and the inevitable annoyance caused to motorists. We are consulting on extending the scheme nationwide and if that consultation is positive, we will push ahead with extending it to the rest of the country.

My Lords, would the Minister care to reply to the question put by my noble friend Lord Rosser? If he is unable to do so now, will he please write to him with a proper answer and put a copy of it in the Library?

I thought I had replied to the noble Lord, but of course, if the noble Baroness is dissatisfied with my response, I would be happy to look at it again and come up with the exact funding figures. I am sure that our record will stand up to scrutiny, and I am happy to provide further details in a letter and place it in the Library.

Will the Minister investigate the increase in pollution in London caused by the unending roadworks that are intended to reduce congestion, but end up actually making the congestion worse? Is this a plot to get rid of us altogether?

I suspect that the noble Lord should refer his question to Transport for London, but as I mentioned in reply to my noble friend Lord Tebbit, we are trying to come up with innovative schemes to reduce the congestion caused by roadworks and utilities. We think that the lane rental scheme will make a major contribution to that, but of course, we are always in the market for other ideas if people have them.

My Lords, I have got another idea: the quickest way to reduce congestion is actually to reduce traffic, so what about introducing road pricing? It has been on the agenda at various points, but it seems to fail. There are some very sophisticated schemes whereby the length of a journey, the emissions caused and the time of day can be measured. This would be a very effective way of reducing traffic.

I am sure it would be—and I think it would be extremely unpopular with motorists. I am aware that various cities in this country and around the world have trialled road pricing schemes, and that several initiatives are being looked at. However, I do not have any further information to give the noble Baroness at the moment.