10 March 1998

Mrs Caroline Spelman MP (Con. Meriden)

I am pleased to contribute to the debate, especially as my constituency is one of those most criss-crossed by the motorway network. Meriden in the west midlands has the M40, the M42 and the M6 running through it. Some of the most congested sections of those motorways pass through a narrow section of green belt between Coventry and Birmingham. Issues of pressure on land use are therefore acute in my constituency.

I should make it clear at the outset that our intention is not to oppose the Bill but to raise concerns in a way that would strengthen and finesse the measure before us.

I concur with the view that a more realistic target would be the restraint of traffic growth. The national road traffic forecasts into the next century predict a 38 per cent. increase in traffic by the year 2016 and a 60 per cent. increase by the year 2031. That is a daunting prospect, which emphasises the need for measures to restrain that level of growth. I am concerned about whether targets will achieve that, without specific measures behind them.

There is no denying that many of our major motorways and trunk roads are heavily oversubscribed. I have looked into the weighting on our motorways in Meriden. The M42, which was built to take a capacity of 70,000 vehicles a day now takes 120,000 at peak times. The section of the M6 in the constituency of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) was built for approximately the same capacity and is taking 140,000 vehicles--double the number that it was originally intended to take. We cannot ignore the serious implications of that.

I applaud the Government for the roads review, in so far as it allows us to stand back from the difficulties of our congested motorways and recognise that, in the case of the M6 and the M42, severe environmental consequences flow from simply widening those motorways. I make a plea to the Government to undertake a study of the issue. Adding lane capacity to motorways may provide a short-term solution, but as acres of green-belt land go under tarmac—for ever, probably—there may still be congestion at the traffic nodes, as a result of the extra capacity flowing down those lanes.

May I make a modest plea on behalf of the motorist. Most Members of Parliament are car owners. Only a few of us manage to find other solutions in exclusively urban settings. It is important for the success of the initiative to reduce the rate of traffic growth that we decide whether to use carrots or sticks. If motorists are to be discouraged from taking their vehicles to work and parking in an urban setting, there must be adequate parking facilities at the point from which they could take public transport. I shall illustrate that with the problem that my constituents face. There is a reasonable main line and there are short-distance commuter networks from the Meriden constituency into Birmingham and Coventry, but parking facilities are often woefully inadequate. I know from my experience of canvassing during the election campaign that the railway station car park at Dorridge, which is the centre of a suburban community, is full by 8 o'clock in the morning. The surrounding roads have just had yellow lines painted on them, so it is now difficult for residents of Dorridge and the nearby areas to use the railway station. We need to consider car parking arrangements.

I regularly use the west coast main line to travel to Westminster. The service is of great assistance to me and my constituents as I deal with a great deal of my correspondence on the train. However, parking at Birmingham International railway station is extremely difficult, although the car park there was extended fairly recently. The local, practical reasons for the problem illustrate the way in which national traffic reduction targets often overlook local circumstances.

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