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A5 Trunk Road (M42/M69)

Volume 587: debated on Tuesday 28 October 2014

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Harriett Baldwin.)

When Members have toddled out of the Chamber, speedily and quietly, Mr Marcus Jones can rise to his feet to orate.

I am delighted to have been able to secure a debate about one of the busiest and most congested parts of our strategic road network. I am pleased to see that my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (David Tredinnick) is present—he, too, has a constituency interest in this busy stretch of the A5—and I thank my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for his time, and for the consideration that I hope he will give to the debate.

Let me explain why I am concerned about this stretch of the A5, and why I believe that there needs to be a fundamental rethink about the future of that busy highway for the sake of my constituents who live on the route, and for the sake of economic growth in the west and east midlands corridor.

The A5, or Watling street, which marks the northern boundary of my constituency, was built by the Romans, who originally built the road from Londinium to Deva—or London to Chester, as we know them today. I have not established the exact date when Watling street was built, but the fact that the Romans withdrew from Britain in 410 AD gives us a slight clue as to the longevity of the route. I am certain that the sheer volume of traffic that would use Watling street in the 21st century was never envisaged, even once the ownership of cars became commonplace after the second world war. That is why so many other sections of the busy road, which now stretches from London to Holyhead, have been substantially changed to reflect the volume of vehicles that use it.

Today, the A5 between junction 10 of the M42 and junction 1 of the M69 is one of the most congested routes on the strategic road network, particularly between the Longshoot junction and the Dodwells roundabout. That section is considered to be the 15th most congested section of road on the network. Many of my constituents live along Watling Street and on feeder roads such as the Longshoot, Higham lane, Weddington road and Woodford lane. They live every day with the imposition of queuing traffic, high levels of noise and massive pollution.

The pressure on the route is often compounded when traffic shifts from the M6 to the A5. There are regular closures on the M6. As my right hon. Friend knows, I have expressed concern in the House before about the safety of junctions 1 to 4 on the M6, where there are regular accidents. My constituents are affected by the way in which the traffic shifts from the motorway through my constituency to the A5 in order to reach the M42 and the M69. You probably think that that is a subject for a debate on another day, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I am sure that my right hon. Friend will give my comments some consideration tonight.

Over the decades, this section of the A5 has undergone numerous redesigns to deal with safety issues and to mitigate the growing number of vehicles on our roads. For many years my constituents have suffered from the disruption of regular roadworks that are intended to improve the situation. At this very moment, work is taking place from the Dodwells roundabout to the Royal Red Gate junction, where the A5 meets the A444. Just tonight, I was interviewed on BBC Radio Coventry and Warwickshire about the issue, along with a very disgruntled lady who was less than happy about the current disruption. I think that that disruption is extremely unfortunate, but it is quite necessary. Much of the work that is being undertaken between the Royal Red Gate and Higham lane junctions is facilitating the new Motor Industry Research Association technology park, which is creating more than 2,000 new jobs. As well as the new jobs, that part of the route will have a very positive effect on the local area because it is being turned into dual carriageway. Inevitably, that progress will put greater stress on the Longshoot junction and the Dodwells roundabout east of MIRA, but that will largely be mitigated by the current pinch-point scheme now under construction. The changes now taking place on the A5 will have a positive effect and there will be gain for the pain that my constituents and the many users of this busy route are experiencing.

I am also convinced, however, that we need a longer-term solution and we must seek it now. We cannot wait five, 10, 15 or 20 years before we consider the future. That would not be right for my constituents or the wider west and east midlands economy.

A substantial amount of development is planned along the A5 corridor both in my constituency and in that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth. As my constituents know, I do not agree with all the development plans being promoted by the local planning authority in my constituency. However, it appears from the approach it is taking that these developments will go ahead whether I or my constituents like them or not. We must therefore think about substantive solutions for this section of the A5 to deal with the future issues.

My right hon. Friend the Minister will also be aware of the significant partnership-working currently taking place on the issue between the Highways Agency, the Coventry and Warwickshire local enterprise partnership, the Leicester and Leicestershire LEP, Warwickshire county council, Leicestershire county council, and the Nuneaton and Bedworth, Hinckley and Bosworth and North Warwickshire borough councils. The Minister will know that those agencies have jointly started to conduct some very embryonic work on a strategic enhancement of this section of the A5. They are looking at the issues and constraints that affect that busy section of highway.

That work has been conducted by the partnership, which has been formed because there is a strong business case for a long-term solution to the problems we face on that section of highway. It is thought that a long-term solution for that section of the A5 could bring savings of £680 million through better travel times, lower vehicle operating costs and a reduction in the accident rate on what is a busy stretch of road. That proposal aligns with the strategic growth aspirations of both the public sector and the private sector in the area. This evening I am asking the Minister to look at the detail of the embryonic work that has already been conducted and that I am sure his Department has seen.

My hon. Friend is making a very strong case for the A5, which is an important route from the M1 at junction 18 to the north-west, avoiding the M6. I wonder whether we might persuade the Minister to look at the southern part of the A5 as well, from the M69 down to the M1. There will be very substantial housing and commercial development at the junction 18 end, and we could use that as an opportunity to improve that thoroughfare.

I thank my hon. Friend, who represents Rugby. I completely agree with his request in relation to the section further down the A5, which can only help the situation further up the A5, to the benefit of my constituents and the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth. I would also say in that regard that the work currently going on at the Catthorpe interchange, where the M6 meets the M1-A14, will have an extremely positive effect for our constituents in addressing, hopefully, some of the issues—not all, but some—that I referred to earlier: the A5 and Nuneaton get so clogged with traffic due to accidents on the M6.

This evening, I am asking the Minister to speak to my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Transport and the Chancellor about this issue, which is a matter of major concern for my constituents and many other people living in the region. He will know that the embryonic work has been carried out. I am now looking for a sympathetic ear in the hope that he will put forward my argument that funding for a further in-depth investigation and feasibility study of this busy stretch of the strategic road network should be made available. The investigation needs to include all stakeholders, particularly the people who live on and are affected by the current route.

I know how diligent the Minister is. He has helped me personally with other issues in my constituency, including the fallout following the closure of Daw Mill colliery. I remember the assistance that he gave me at that time, and I am confident that he will try to help in whatever way he can now. We have an autumn statement coming up, and I am sure that he will make a strong case to the Secretary of State and the Chancellor so that we can look at the long-term future of this busy section of the A5, which needs urgent consideration. I hope that the points that I have put on record tonight will go some way to enabling the case to go forward, so that we can do the right thing for my constituents. That has not been achieved under numerous Governments over the decades, and my constituents have had to put up with absolute mayhem on that section of this busy route.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) for sharing the debate with me. He has done a great job in representing Nuneaton in the House since his election. He has been a credit to his constituents and it has always been a pleasure to work with him.

The problem with this section of the A5 is a problem of success as much as of failure. The huge expansion of MIRA as well as of the business park that was agreed by my right hon. Friend the Minister’s coalition colleagues, has created thousands of jobs. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton said, this is a unique stretch of road. Indeed, the section to which he referred, between Dodwells bridge and the Longshoot, actually consists of two roads: the A5 Watling street and the A47. However, the one does not run above the other. Both are confined into the space of a narrow highway the width of an old-fashioned turnpike.

My hon. Friend has talked about the importance of the road generally. I should like to alert the Minister to a specific problem that is affecting my constituency at the crossing of the A444 and the A5 at the Royal Red Gate junction. I raise the matter because it reflects badly on the organisations concerned, including the Government, the Highways Agency, the county council and Hinckley and Bosworth borough council, none of which has properly consulted Witherley parish council about the matter.

I should like to say a few words about parish councils. The people representing their residents on parish councils are the salt of the earth. They are often very clever people such as the chair of Witherley parish council, who was the head of government and industry affairs at East Midlands airport. We have in this instance a complete failure of communication, in that the local people are under the strong impression that they are not being properly consulted. I ask the Minister to ensure that, when the roundabout at the Royal Red Gate junction is developed, clear signage is put in place to divert the long-distance traffic off on to the M42 and well away from the A5. Also, we do not want the problem of rat runs being blocked, or unblocked, without consultation. I am deeply grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton for raising this important matter, and I look forward—as I am sure he does—to hearing the Minister’s reply.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) on securing this debate on the A5 trunk road between the M42, junction 10 and the M69, junction 2. As has been said, he has been a tireless campaigner on the need for future investment in this road, and I recognise his continuing courageous determination in that respect. He has raised this issue on behalf of his constituents, local businesses and the local economy. C.S Lewis said that

“courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point”.

My hon. Friend’s courage has been in evidence once again tonight in raising these matters.

This Government recognise the crucial role that transport infrastructure plays in facilitating growth across the country and creating a more balanced economy, but that alone would not be justification, of itself; I take the view, and have increasingly evangelised it in the Department and more widely, that improving transport is also about well-being, communal opportunity, individual chances to gain employment and new experiences, and good civil society. I see transport and communications in that broader perspective, which I know my hon. Friend shares. In connecting communities and in enabling people to access jobs, services and leisure, transport can play a vital role in regenerative efforts. That is why we have been determined to reverse the effects of the previous Administration’s neglect by securing significant levels of investment in our strategic road network.

All Governments make mistakes and all Governments do things well. As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, I like to be generous in these matters, but one of the previous regime’s mistakes was to allow their approach to roads to be driven by the piecemeal, the ad hoc and the reactive. By contrast, this Government are taking a strategic, long-term, lateral view of the importance of investing in roads, which is why we have committed five-year funding to strategic road investment. Hon. Members will know that the detail of that investment in strategic transport infrastructure was set out by the Chancellor in last year’s spending review statement. The Treasury Command Paper “Investing in Britain’s future” set out that this Government will invest more than £28 billion in enhancements and maintenance of both national and local roads over the period up to 2020-21. That long-term vision, backed by funding, will build consistency and coherence into the approach we take to road development. It means that existing roads will be improved—we are resurfacing about 80% of the nation’s roads— and we will invest £10.7 billion in major national road projects, as well as £6 billion in the maintenance of strategic roads.

On the future investment in the strategic network, my hon. Friend will be aware that the Highways Agency is currently conducting its route strategy process. Route strategies will provide a smarter approach to investment planning across the network, through greater collaboration with local stakeholders to determine the nature, need and timing of those investments. The process has been hallmarked by two stages, the first of which has been completed. It identified performance issues on routes, future challenges and growth opportunities, taking full account of local priorities and aspirations, with the finalised evidence made available on 23 April. The second stage is well under way; utilising the evidence, we are establishing outline operational and investment priorities for all routes on the strategic road network, and we will take forward a programme of work to identify indicative solutions, which will cover operational, maintenance and, if appropriate, road improvement schemes to inform future investment plans.

Will the Minister acknowledge the importance of the improvement of such roads to the road haulage industry—many of its firms are based in my constituency—and the important part that logistics plays in our national economy?

Indeed, and it was for that very reason that I met the representative body of road hauliers just last week, in the spirit that my hon. Friend personifies. In congratulating and applauding the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton, I must also pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) and for Bosworth (David Tredinnick), who have been tireless campaigners in the defence of and, moreover, in their aspirations for their constituents. They have all taken a particular interest in the A5.

I am obliged to my right hon. Friend for giving way. May I say that, as a Transport Minister, he is also the people’s friend? In support of my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), may I pray in aid the A5, which is a very important route that my constituents use from the exit of the M42? One part of that exit, which is not dualled, is the exit going towards my hon. Friend’s constituency through north Warwickshire. The route is important for infrastructure and for my constituents. I urge the Minister to listen to what he says.

My hon. Friend follows in the tradition of his predecessor, Sir Robert Peel, who also represented Tamworth, in his determination to do what is right for those whom he serves. I prefer to be inspired by Disraeli, as perhaps my hon. Friend does too. None the less, that is an important tradition, and he makes, as always, a powerful argument in this Chamber.

The Government already recognise the importance of improving the A5. The Highways Agency pinch-point scheme for the M42 junction 10, which was completed earlier this year, along with the Highways Agency pinch- point scheme for the A5-A47 Longshoot and Dodwells junctions, which has recently started on site, are due to be completed by March 2015.

In addition, the MIRA enterprise zone, which is located adjacent to the A5 in Hinckley, was successful in securing regional growth funding with which it is providing A5 improvements. Those improvements include increasing the capacity at the A444 Red Gate junction as well as improving the access arrangements to the site itself. Those works are currently on site and are expected to be completed by March 2015.

Overall, these schemes show Government investment of around £15 million into improving this section of the A5. However, I recognise that my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton is concerned that the scale and potential economic and housing growth along the corridor will place increasing pressure on the A5 and that—he has made the case tonight—further investment in the route is necessary. To that end I commend the efforts made by—

Let me finish what I was saying, as I am about to commend my hon. Friend and I know that he would not want to miss that.

I was about to say that I commend the efforts made to date by my hon. Friend, along with the relevant local stakeholders, to engage with the Highways Agency through its route strategy process. I recognise that concerns over the capacity of the A5 were raised by a number of local stakeholders during the Highways Agency’s route strategy stakeholder event, with a particular reference to the notable economic and housing development planned along the corridor.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his kind words, which will, I am sure, be matched with action by him to support my constituents in relation to this important route. May I also impress on him the importance of consultation with the public in relation to any changes to the A5? Over many years, there have been lots of different reconfigurations, particularly at the Red Gate and Longshoot junctions, on which, unfortunately, my constituents have not been consulted. Many think that, as a result, they have not seen the best outcomes.

At this point, to the distress of my officials no doubt, I will detach myself from the prepared brief and say two things. First, if that is the case, then I will give this guarantee to the House tonight from this Dispatch Box that we will improve the way in which we engage with local stakeholders to ensure that any omission or error is not completed. Secondly, as my hon. Friend mentioned that the A5 was a Roman road, I will draw on G.K. Chesterton’s poem, “The Rolling English Road”. I am inspired by the following words. Chesterton talked about walking with

“clearer eyes and ears this path that wandereth.”

I assure my hon. Friend that with that clear sight, this listening Minister in this listening Government will ensure once again that local people’s views are taken fully into account.

I will give way briefly to my hon. Friend, because I want to then say some other exciting and exhilarating things.

I am not seeking a commendation such as that given to my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton.

There has been poor consultation on the Red Gate junction. If the Minister is going to put up barriers on these major roads, they will have to be concrete to make sure that no one can break through them when they are not supposed to.

I am mindful of what my hon. Friend says and I want to pay particular attention to those remarks and his earlier remarks if I have time in a few moments. He raised some important concerns that are particular but deserve full consideration.

As I say, I commend the partnership working between local authorities along the corridor, with the relevant Government departments, including the Highways Agency, and the efforts that have been undertaken recently to carry out an initial study of the potential substantive options for the route. My hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton paid attention to that in his remarks. Although this is only an initial step, as he acknowledged, I understand that the embryonic work indicates that a very significant scheme to improve the full length of the route between the M42 and the M69 to dual carriageway standard may be an appropriate long-term option.

This proposal is being considered by the Highways Agency through the route strategy process. At this stage I cannot guarantee that funding further to progress the study work for such a solution to the A5 will be included in the upcoming roads investment strategy, but I will guarantee this evening that it will be actively considered, along with other proposals for the strategic network, and mindful of the remarks of my hon. Friend and other hon. Members who have fought this brave campaign, I will reinforce those concerns when I return to the Department tomorrow morning.

I want to say a particular word to my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth, because he has raised some specific doubts about some of the road closures that have taken place. This is not the first time that he has raised them in the House. Again, his diligence speaks for itself. I want to give him this assurance. I understand that the road closures in their current format meet safety and access requirements and though the disruption is significant for some, I know he welcomes growth across the network. As a result of his intervention tonight, I will ask the Department to look again at the impact of those closures, what more the Highway Agency can do to make sure they are as minimal as they can be, and to take any further measures to ease problems that may arise from that disruption.

I said at the outset of the debate that my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton has done the House a service. It may be unconventional, but I take the view that Government policy should be framed and shaped through debates such as this. It is not sufficient for a Minister to stand here and not respond to hon. Members’ concerns, on whatever side of the Chamber they sit. I will ensure that in all the work we do as a Government, and our agencies do on our behalf, the considerations of hon. Members, representing and articulating as they do the concerns of the people they serve, are at the very heart of what the Government do.

C. S. Lewis also said:

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”

I know that my hon. Friend’s goal, and that of other hon. Members, is that the A5 serves its purpose in delivering the well-being that I described and fuelling the economic growth that we all seek. This debate has taken that dream one step further.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.