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Junction 10A: A14

Volume 582: debated on Tuesday 17 June 2014

I thank Mr Speaker for granting me the debate, which is unusual in that you as Chair, Mr Bone, and the Minister who is responding, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill), are in danger of being overqualified for it, because you are both familiar with the stretch of the A14 near Kettering about which I intend to speak. Indeed, I thank the Minister very much for visiting Kettering on 23 May and standing on the footbridge over the A14 at Cranford, which is the proposed location of the new junction 10A, should it ever be built. I am most grateful for the personal attention that the Minister has given to the issue.

Junction 10A does not exist. At the moment, it is a blob on a Department for Transport map, but it is a junction that the people of Kettering very much need if the town of is not to grind to a halt because of all the new house building taking place in the borough. As you know, Mr Bone, because your constituency Wellingborough is similar in this respect, Kettering is one of the fastest growing towns or boroughs in the whole country. The census figures for 2001 to 2011 place Kettering at No. 6 on the list of local authorities demonstrating the fastest increase in the number of households. Over that 10-year period, the number of households in Kettering increased by 16.8%. That is the fastest rate of growth in Northamptonshire and sixth in the whole country, after one location in the south-west, two in the east midlands and two London authorities. That rate of growth is set to continue.

The plans for 5,500 new houses to the east of Kettering, between the town of Kettering itself and the village of Cranford, were in effect imposed on Kettering borough council in the dying days of the previous Labour Government. There is a great deal of local concern about the rate of house building in our area. It is not possible, however, to undo the planning consent—those houses have permission and we have to make the best of it. We have to ensure that those houses form a vital, liveable community and not simply one big, soulless housing estate. In order to make that happen, we must ensure not only that the infrastructure is in place to serve those new houses but that the existing residents in the other parts of Kettering do not have the quality of their lives destroyed. For local people, it is the equivalent of bolting on to the town of Kettering another town the size of Desborough, which is located a few miles away. The rate of change for the local community will be absolutely huge.

The experts in the Department for Transport say that in order to cope with the 5,500 extra houses, a new junction on the A14 is needed—called junction 10A. It would be located by the footbridge between Burton Latimer and Cranford, upon which the Minister and I walked only a few weeks ago. The cost of the junction is estimated to be £39 million, and it is the Department for Transport that has said that the junction is necessary. Indeed, a planning condition is in place: that no more than 1,750 houses may be built unless a scheme is in place for junction 10A.

I am asking the Minister to consider giving a commitment to fund the junction. I am not asking him to get his cheque book out now and hand me a cheque for £39 million, although that would be very nice. Local people do need, however, a commitment from Her Majesty’s Government to fund the junction in the period 2017 to 2020. Such a commitment would give developers the necessary assurance that the funding would be forthcoming at a future date, which would trigger private sector investment now to ensure that the development takes place. Any delay by Her Majesty’s Government in giving that commitment will delay the development of Kettering East, which increases the chance of it not taking place properly. The chance increases of a soulless housing estate being created, rather than a vital, liveable community.

We are talking not only about houses but about jobs, industry and green energy. Located just across the A14 from Kettering East is the Burton Wold wind farm. In many ways, surprisingly, that is a popular local wind farm. A lot of money goes from the wind farm owners into Burton Latimer for community projects, and the number of wind turbines is going to increase from 10 to 17. The new turbines will be some of the most efficient in the world, with 40% efficiency, rather than 20% efficiency. General Electric and First Renewable Developments want to develop the Burton Wold wind farm into an energy park with solar generation, biomass plants and the recycling of heat. If the energy park were to take off, it would generate 60 MW of electricity, which is more than enough to power Kettering. That would make Kettering an entirely green town, in the sense that all its energy needs would come from its own energy park. GE has chosen Kettering because, apparently, it is the most typical town in England.

Kettering is a lovely place to live; I always try to describe it as middle England at its best, and GE has realised that. Kettering, because it is average on most indicators and is the most typical town in England, has been chosen by GE for that template energy park development. If such a development works in Kettering, the idea is to roll it out to other typical towns, not only in England but in other countries. Kettering has an exciting chance to become a template, a pioneer, for that sort of development. Alongside the energy park would be an employment park, between Kettering, Barton Seagrave and Burton Latimer, to provide thousands of jobs for all the people who are going to live in the thousands of houses being built. None of that can take place, however, unless there is a junction 10A on the A14.

In response to my question on the Floor of the House on 8 May, the Minister rightly said that those who stood to benefit from the new junction should contribute towards it. The biggest beneficiaries of the new junction, however, will in fact be Her Majesty’s Treasury, because of all the extra business rates and tax receipts generated, such as from VAT and income from employment. Indeed, the £39 million cost of junction 10A —there is an associated cost for another road, the Weekley-Warkton bypass, so the total would be £60 million to £65 million—would generate £1.2 billion of economic benefit, most of which would go to the Treasury.

Spending £60 million on these two road projects, including £39 million on junction 10A, would therefore trigger £160 million of private sector investment from General Electric in the energy park. Without the development of junction 10A, local economic activity would increase by £342 million; with it, total economic activity would be £1.2 billion. Spending £39 million on junction 10A would therefore produce a net economic benefit of £862 million, the vast majority of which would go to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That spending would enable us to complete 5,500 homes in a coherent and sensible way and to have 60 MW of low-carbon energy production, as well as thousands of new jobs for local people. If we are to make Kettering East work, that seems a sensible way to go about it.

However, the absolutely pivotal decision—the key to this—is the Minister’s. If he can find his way not to fund, but to give a commitment to fund, this new junction from 2017 onwards, that will unlock extra private sector investment now in the local economies of Kettering and Northamptonshire. Indeed, the local enterprise partnerships for Northamptonshire and the south-east midlands have both included the junction in their strategic economic plans. On the Floor of the House just a few weeks ago, the Deputy Prime Minister said he was impressed by the fact that they had come together to identify this key junction as a strategic priority.

I agree with the Minister that the developers of the houses, the business park and the energy park should contribute to local infrastructure improvements. Indeed, there is a substantial section 106 agreement for more than £70 million to go into infrastructure provision in Kettering. There will be badly needed improvements to the local road network in the town of Kettering, but there will also be private sector investment in the improvements that will take place to junctions 9 and 10 of the A14. Private developers are therefore contributing up front to the extra infrastructure costs. However, what they are seeking, what I am seeking and what local people need is a commitment from Her Majesty’s Government to new junction 10A.

The £39 million cost pales into insignificance when compared with the £50 billion for High Speed 2. There are not many economic projects across the country that could trigger £1.2 billion of total economic activity for £39 million. Indeed, I suspect that the Minister would agree that such a rate of return would be extremely attractive if it were applied to High Speed 2.

The Minister has a golden opportunity to make one of the best decisions he will have the chance to make in his tenure in the Department. I hope it is a long tenure, because he is assiduous. He is an excellent Minister, who weighs up all the pros and cons. He goes out of his way to visit sites to see for himself what local Members are talking about. When he puts all the things I have mentioned into the mix, I very much hope he will come to the conclusion that the right decision—not only to achieve extra economic growth for our country, but to make sure Kettering becomes a pioneer in joined-up, sensible development that is sustainable into the future, with a large element of green energy thrown into the mix—would be to give a commitment to fund junction 10A. In that way, Kettering will become an exemplar that can be rolled out across not only this country but other countries in the world.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) on securing this debate on junction 10A of the A14. I also congratulate him on his tenacity in continuing to raise the issue. With his concluding remarks, I think he gets the gold medal for buttering up Ministers.

I know the subject is of great importance to my hon. Friend, who has long campaigned for improvements to the strategic roads in his constituency. I very much recognise the important role the A14 plays play in facilitating movements in and around Kettering, as well as the need for transport infrastructure to support the area’s growth and development aspirations.

As my hon. Friend will know, I recently visited the proposed site of the new junction 10A, and I am grateful for the hospitality shown to me during my visit—I had a very pleasant breakfast at the Little Chef nearby. I also had the opportunity to see first hand the location of the Kettering East development and the proposals for it. Kettering borough council presented me with an umbrella and suggested that it would be a good deal if I could pass the scheme in return. It would have been a very good deal indeed. I recently put the umbrella to very good use in Newark.

My hon. Friend also showed me the Burton Wold energy park and demonstrated the sustainability of the development, which includes wind generation, biofuels and other forms of sustainable energy. In addition, we had a chance to look at the Weetabix factory, which is a big employer in the area. Later in the day, I joined the cavalcade opening the Kettering to Corby link road—a major project that demonstrates the Government’s commitment to investment in our road infrastructure.

On the Government’s commitment to infrastructure investment, we have already announced increased Government funding to deliver improvements all around the strategic road network that are targeted at supporting economic growth. Our commitment to delivering a step change in future transport infrastructure investment was made clear by the Chancellor in his statement of 26 June last year, which announced the conclusions of the Government’s 2013 spending review. The Treasury’s Command Paper “Investing in Britain’s Future” said that the Government will invest more than £28 billion in enhancements to, and maintenance of, national and local roads. That includes £10.7 billion for major national road projects and £4.9 billion for local major projects. More than £12 billion has been allocated for maintenance, with nearly £6 billion for repairs to local roads and £6 billion for maintenance of strategic roads, including resurfacing 80% of the strategic road network.

The Government’s national infrastructure plan sets out the details of the commitments made on specific investment projects. In it there are a number of examples of where the Government have committed to the delivery of schemes that facilitate the delivery of not only further housing, but development-related investment.

My hon. Friend said he was not asking me to write the cheque today, but he did, in effect, ask me to write a postdated cheque. Unfortunately, I cannot go that far today, but I do hope I can make some encouraging noises in that direction. As I said, the Government are committed to investing in our national road infrastructure to improve capacity, reduce congestion and support economic growth across the country.

We have been clear about the importance of the Kettering East development and the need to overcome some of the barriers to its delivery. The scheme has been stalled for a number of years because of the challenges involved in co-ordinating housing, economic and transport issues at such a scale and the major costs associated with the infrastructure needed to get the scheme under way. As part of the Government’s commitment to unlock proposals for future housing development, the then Housing Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr Prisk), committed a number of colleagues from related Departments to work closely with the local authority, the LEPs and the private sector developers to make progress in delivering the scheme. A strategic partners group comprising several Departments, the Homes and Communities Agency, the Highways Agency, the LEPs, the developers and the local authority has been working to establish a common understanding and an agreement between the Government, local partners and developers on opportunities to move the scheme forward.

I sense that the Minister will not be in danger of over-running his time; I am enjoying his speech immensely.

The strategic partners group is, I think, regarded across Government as an exemplar of how to do the things in question. Indeed, the Department for Communities and Local Government has funded Kettering borough council and Northamptonshire county council to look at design options for junction 10A and the Weekley Warkton bypass. The Energy Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker), has visited the Burton Wold wind farm site, and I have several times been to the Cabinet Office, with the local authorities and the local enterprise partnerships, to press the case. Will the Minister therefore recognise that the strategic economic partners group is working well, but that the key decision will be his?

Yes, my hon. Friend is right, although I suspect that the Treasury’s views will also be taken into account. Often announcements of this kind are made in close co-operation with the Treasury. The work of such groups and the fact that we are listening particularly to business interests underlines the importance that we give to such development, which can unlock, in particular, the housing development so much needed in parts of the country. Department for Transport and Highways Agency officials are also currently providing advice and assistance to the developers and Kettering borough council, to get a clear understanding of the opportunities that this important development proposal creates.

It may be worth providing a little background to the work that has been completed to date. Outline planning permission for the development was granted in April 2010, with a number of conditions including agreement over the access arrangements to the local highway network and the adjacent A14 trunk road. The first phases of the development will be served from the local highways network and by improvements to existing junctions 9 and 10 of the A14. Those improvements have been approved with the Highways Agency and they satisfy not only Kettering East but also the related development proposals for a major business park being developed to the south of junction 10. Later phases of the Kettering East development require the provision of the new junction 10A to the west on the A14. The planning conditions for that have been met and a basic design has been agreed with the Highways Agency. Ministerial approval for a new junction 10A was required and it was given by Transport Ministers in 2012. The proposal would mean a new grade-separated junction to the east of junction 10, involving the closure of the east-facing slip roads on the current junction 10, to comply with standards.

The Government have provided support and funding to assist in the work necessary to plan and deliver the proposals at Kettering East. As part of our local infrastructure fund proposals, we have also provided £1.2 million of LIF capacity funding to the local authority to enable it to establish a dedicated project team to drive the project forward and carry out the technical highways feasibility work to examine the need for and the cost and timing of the junction on the A14. In addition, the Government have agreed to the provision of £14 million of LIF capital funding to the private sector developer to enable key infrastructure to be put in place to get phase 1 of the development—up to 1,750 homes—under way. In short, it is possible for the development to commence without junction 10A but, of course, we understand the importance of the junction to the completion of the whole development.

My hon. Friend made the case for the Government to commit to the funding of the improvements necessary at junction 10A of the A14 and it may be useful if I say a little more on the Department’s investment planning process for future investment proposals for the national road network. My hon. Friend will be aware, with respect to other future investment planning processes, that the Highways Agency is currently conducting its route strategy process. That involves local stakeholders in the consideration of future priorities. Route strategies will provide a smarter approach to investment planning across the network and will mean greater collaboration with local stakeholders to determine the need for and nature and timing of future investment that might be required on the network.

The Highways Agency completed a series of local engagement events last autumn to help to identify performance issues and future challenges, and I welcome the enthusiasm with which stakeholders, including those in my hon. Friend’s constituency, have participated in the progress so far. A finalised evidence report was published on the agency’s website on 23 April, and the agency and the Department will now use that evidence to prioritise and take forward a programme of work to identify indicative solutions covering operations, maintenance and, if appropriate, potential road improvement schemes. We will produce a uniform set of strategies for the entire network, including the A14 as part of the Felixstowe to Midlands route strategy.

The Government have also announced plans to create a local growth fund from 2015-16 onwards, which will be devolved to local enterprise partnerships and will incorporate all funding for local major transport schemes. There is more than £6 billion of transport funding in the fund up to 2020-21. I am aware that the addition of a junction 10A on the A14, and the proposals for the local authority road improvements, have also been subject to bids through the local growth fund process and Government will take decisions on the local growth fund allocations in July. Subject to the decisions taken as part of the local growth fund process, my Department and other Departments will continue to work with the local authorities and partners to understand the details of the case for transport investment in Kettering East. To consider the case for future investment proposals, my Department and the Highways Agency will need to consider the transport business case for the junction 10A proposals, including the transport value for money assessment, delivery time scales and details of any potential third-party contributions to the capital costs of the project. I believe that those negotiations on third-party contributions will be important in how we are able to deliver the junction. I understand that the detailed transport business case is to be completed in due course. Once it has been presented, with robust evidence to underpin the cost and timing of, and need for, the new junction, the Government will be able to consider the case for an investment decision to be taken.

I again congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering on securing the debate. I have made it clear that the Government are committed to, and have set out plans for, large-scale investments to improve our national strategic road network and help to facilitate economic growth. Indeed, there is nothing that I like better than the laying of tarmac, the pouring of concrete and the commencement of excavation work, to show that the Government are investing in our national infrastructure. We are committed to working closely with partners to ensure that we fully understand the impacts of what is an important development on the surrounding transport infrastructure. Ultimately, however, any proposals for future investment will need to demonstrate a strong business case, and to have secured third-party contributions, for Government to take an investment decision.

This has been a good debate on a subject that you, Mr Bone, might well have wanted to take part in yourself, had you not been in the Chair.

Sitting suspended.