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Global Britain: Traffic

Volume 830: debated on Monday 15 May 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the effect on the success of their ‘Global Britain’ initiative that, for a second year in a row, the Inrix Global Traffic Scorecard has found London to have the highest traffic delay times of any city in the world.

My Lords, the balance of transport choices in London, including the relative importance given to car traffic, is a matter for the mayor and Transport for London. However, with the opening of the Elizabeth line last year, London’s reputation for efficient and modern transport has been demonstrated globally, an achievement for which many, including the noble Lord, can share credit.

My Lords, with bicycle lanes that have not increased the uptake of bicycling as a mode of transport, with ULEZ extended to parts of London that neither need nor want it, and with a Labour-run local authority now tendering out its speeding enforcement to unsleeping robots to maximise its revenue, does my noble friend the Minister not realise that people are at the end of their tethers and expect the Government to act to defend them from these depredations?

My noble friend is asking me to withdraw from the devolution agreement for London. We have no plans to do that, and I encourage Londoners to hold the mayor to account.

My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on what the Government have done to get more bicycle lanes and footpaths since Covid. The problem is that so many people are getting fed up with car drivers and cycle lanes are now very full. Can the Minister say whether she has any plans to increase the number of cycle lanes in London or anywhere else?

The Minister has no plans, because it is not up to the Minister to have those plans; it is up to the Mayor of London. The Mayor of London continues to invest in cycling and walking—that is his choice. The Government remain committed to cycling and walking as natural choices for the shortest journeys.

My Lords, there are many parts of London where 20 miles per hour zones have not yet been implemented by local authorities. There is good evidence from areas that have introduced them that they work very well in making the traffic flow more smoothly in areas of high congestion. Do the Government intend to encourage local authorities across Britain to look at this solution to congestion and delays?

As the noble Baroness well knows, the Department for Transport does not operate roads other than the major motorways. It is for the local authorities operating those roads, having consulted local people, to make those decisions, including the introduction of 20 miles per hour speed zones.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it must have been an absolute miracle with divine intervention that enabled the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury to get a speeding ticket in central London? Is my noble friend Lord Moylan not right that this is a desperate situation? Whatever happened to the policy of lane rentals that was meant to charge contractors for taking up the space of roads while making alterations? It was meant to give them an incentive to complete works on time and to get rid of the spectacle we see all the time of roadworks with nobody there—including nobody working over the weekend—causing absolute chaos for the people of London.

I am grateful to my noble friend for moving that question on. Lane rental schemes are a key part of the challenge of making sure that roadworks are taken down as soon as possible. In London, 69% of the TfL route network—the bit operated by the Mayor of London—is currently covered by lane rental schemes. I encourage all local transport authorities to look carefully at lane rental schemes, as they really can help to get roadworks finished on time.

My Lords, despite the funding announced in the Budget, the Government have still slashed pothole funding by almost a quarter in real terms since 2020, and cuts to local government funding leave councils unable to meet this gap from other funds. Does the Minister believe that the millions of potholes which remain unfilled, including those on cycle ways—we have 45 kilometres of them in Stevenage—contribute to traffic delays across the UK?

The Government are investing £8 billion over the next two years in all types of road enhancements and improvements, including £200 million for maintenance and potholes.

Is my noble friend the Minister comfortable that London is now rated the most congested city in the world? Is she equally comfortable that our major retailers in the West End are suffering in relation to trade from people coming into our country? Finally, even the City of London, the centre of finance, is itself complaining that this is affecting the City badly.

I think there is a slight question of clarification here. The data that my noble friend cites actually misses out several cities in the world. Lagos’s traffic is 10 times worse than London’s, and in Seoul it is twice as bad—so London is not the worst. However, what we have to understand, and what the Government understand, is that one needs a mixed economy for transport. Of course, car usage is important, but particularly in London, where excellent public transport is available, we need to make sure that we use that more. I note that traffic is back to 100% of pre-pandemic levels, but the Tube remains persistently below them. I think that the Mayor of London should be doing more to get people back on the Tube.

My Lords, it is quite clear that London’s traffic is grinding to a halt; I drive in it regularly. I have talked to the people doing work on my house, doing boilers—brickies, and this sort of thing. They say that they can achieve only two tasks a day rather than three, and this has a real economic impact on their lives and on this city of ours. It is a disgrace, and something must be done to speed it up and allow a freer flow of traffic.

I absolutely encourage the noble Lord to speak to his friend and colleague who currently holds the mayoralty for London. It is up to him to think about how that balance is achieved. I agree that there are challenges with regard to economic activity for those people who need to use the roads, and that is why the balance of transport is so important—and I believe that more can be done.

My Lords, I entirely welcome what the Minister has said about the high quality of public transport in Greater London. A similar quality for the north of England—an Elizabeth line between Manchester and Leeds, for example—would transform the economy of the north. Is that among the Government’s priorities for a long-term strategy for levelling up in the country?

That is slightly beyond the scope of the Question. Obviously, the Government are committed to the integrated rail plan for the north, and the noble Lord will know that we are investing £5.7 billion under the CRSTS for sustainable transport schemes in many of our major cities.

Is my noble friend aware that many of us look back with fond nostalgia to the days when London had one mayor living in the Mansion House? Would not it be a very good idea if we looked again at the whole idea of giving so much power to such an incompetent man and instead had a proper London authority? Bring back the old days!

My Lords, sometimes it is impossible to go back to the old days, and this Government have no ambition to withdraw from the devolution settlements that are in place.

My Lords, I invite the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, and other Members of your Lordships’ House to join us on the annual bike ride of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Cycling on 13 June so that Members of your Lordships’ House can see that getting out of cars and on to bikes cuts congestion, is good for health and the environment, and a much quicker way to get around London.

That is excellent free advertising for the noble Lord, and I am sure that many in your Lordships’ House will join him.

My Lords, I think that the Minister in an earlier answer told the House that the Government had set aside £200 million for the repair of potholes. I assume that that is across the whole country. If it is not—and she is shaking her head—could she tell the House what estimate the Government have made of the cost per pothole?

I shall write to the noble Baroness with further clarification of my remarks, because the £200 million is in addition to other funding and, unfortunately, I do not have that figure with me today.

My Lords, on the basis of the evidence that we have so far of the effect of the Elizabeth line on the traffic flow through London, should we not now be dusting off the papers about the possibility of a Crossrail 2? It should not be forgotten.

My Lords, there are many competing demands on the Government’s resources. Certainly, Crossrail 2 would have its benefits, but we need to look at that in the context of other projects that might come to pass.