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Congestion (Roads)

Volume 584: debated on Thursday 10 July 2014

Before I answer the question, I should explain that, as you and the Opposition Front Benchers will be aware, Mr Speaker, the Secretary of State is unable to attend Transport questions this morning because of his duties attending on Her Majesty the Queen in Derbyshire.

Road investment is central to our long-term economic plan. We are spending more than £24 billion on strategic roads between 2010 and 2021. A further £7.4 billion will be spent on local roads in the next Parliament, together with £1.5 billion of funding from the local growth fund that was announced on Monday. That will bring forward much needed schemes such as the Bury St Edmunds eastern relief road in Suffolk. All the schemes are designed to relieve congestion and open up growth across the country.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. I welcome the growth deal for the New Anglia local enterprise partnership, which will help to relieve the congestion on many roads. May I make a bid for support for the A12 in Suffolk Coastal, and particularly for the stretches of the road that will be used heavily by Sizewell C construction traffic? There is the possibility of a four-villages bypass involving Stratford St Andrew and Farnham.

I know that my hon. Friend is disappointed that the four-villages bypass was not included on this occasion, but we are still looking at that possibility. Indeed, I was in Norfolk and Suffolk last week undertaking —dare I say it—a “tour d’East Anglia”. I looked at the A12 and the A47, which are greatly in need of improvement.

I welcome the recent growth deal announcement and the £16.4 million of funding that will be put to good use on the Poynton relief road. Does my hon. Friend agree that that will not only reduce traffic congestion for the residents of Poynton, but enhance the strategic links to Macclesfield’s science community?

Yes, that is very good news for the residents of Poynton, Macclesfield and the whole of east Cheshire. The scheme to link the A6 to the Manchester airport relief road, to which the Government are contributing £165 million, will improve access to the significant employment opportunities that are being developed at the Manchester airport city enterprise zone.

Listening to the Minister, one would never guess that the National Audit Office has warned that the Government’s approach is not good enough to fix the pothole epidemic on our local roads, which is aggravating congestion; that the Local Government Association has expressed the concern that the Government’s roads policy will lead to gridlock on local roads; that bus use outside London is down, not up; or that British Cycling has expressed disappointment that the Government are not providing the leadership that is needed to get people out of their cars and to walk or cycle. This is not jam tomorrow; it is traffic jams today. Is it not time that the Minister got a grip?

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman can keep a straight face as he says that. We are tripling road investment in the Highways Agency’s infrastructure. We have substantially increased the investment for local authorities to address the pothole problem. More money was announced in the Budget and following the bad weather at Christmas. This Government realise that we should be improving our infrastructure and mending our roads. It is not only the roof that the Labour party did not mend in government; it did not mend the roads either.

Does my hon. Friend accept that the A12 through Essex and on to the ports and the hinterland of East Anglia is severely congested, and that the best way to relieve that congestion would be to turn it into a motorway? Will he update the House on what is being done to evaluate that proposition, following the answer that the Secretary of State gave to me two Question Times ago?

The A12 is certainly featuring prominently today. My right hon. Friend is a great exponent of the proposal to upgrade the A12 to motorway status. The last time he raised this matter, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said:

“My right hon. Friend makes an interesting suggestion. No doubt he will pursue that argument with me and the authorities on a number of occasions to come.”—[Official Report, 20 March 2014; Vol. 577, c. 892.]

This is just one more of those occasions.

I know the Secretary of State visited the west country a few weeks ago. Did he come back as committed as I have been for 30 years to finally doing something to improve the iconic A303?

I had the pleasure of travelling down the A30-A303 corridor with another colleague who has an interest in that matter. A number of areas along that road were pointed out to me, including the difficult Stonehenge area and the Blackdown hills area, which is more difficult for another reason, and where there is some low-hanging fruit that I hope we can address. That is one of six key routes that we have identified as needing improvement, and I suspect that my hon. Friend will have to wait for the autumn statement to hear further news.

Does the Minister agree that congestion on our roads is the one thing saving our safety record from plunging even further—as he knows, it has now plunged below that of Sweden? Many more young people are being killed on motorcycles under his watch. Does he think it time we went back to targets on reduction so that we can look after people on the roads?

I have only one target for casualties on the road, and that is a target of zero. The UK, along with Sweden, has the safest roads not only in Europe but in the world. Although it was disappointing to see a small increase in the number of motorcycle fatalities last year, in all other areas we have seen improvements owing to a number of factors, not least the investment that we put into better roads in this country.

One way of reducing congestion in the west midlands would be the new M6 south link to the M54 in Shropshire. Will the Minister join me in continuing to petition the Treasury to ensure that funds are available for that within the next few years?

My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) has also raised that issue with me on a number of occasions, and I note the aspirations to upgrade that road to having motorway-type status, despite the fact that it does not have a hard shoulder in every location at the moment.