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Congestion

Volume 589: debated on Thursday 4 December 2014

The Government have an ambitious strategy for tackling congestion and improving the performance of our roads. Our road investment strategy sets out plans to invest no less than £15 billion to enhance strategic roads between 2015 and 2021. The investment plan includes upgrading the M5 from Droitwich to Worcester South, expanding junction 6, improving capacity at junctions 5 and 7, and upgrading the section between junction 4a and junction 6 to smart motorway. These improvements will support growth in housing and jobs in South Worcestershire, address safety issues at the junctions and lead to improved journey times and reliability.

Like motorists in the north and east of Worcester, I am delighted to see the investment in junction 6 of the M5, which will de-bottleneck traffic and unlock a huge amount of growth in our city. However, the southern link is a huge concern to motorists in the south and west of Worcester. May I urge the Minister to engage closely with me, my neighbouring MPs and Worcester county council on the case for full dualling of the southern link, including the Carrington bridge?

Barely a night goes by when I do not dream about the Powick roundabout and the Carrington bridge, as my hon. Friend knows, and I shall certainly continue the dialogue that he described. I think it would be useful to have a meeting with him and other local people, including county councillors, to decide what can be done in this local scheme. It would, of course, be a matter for local discretion, but none the less, if we can play a part in helping, we will.

The other week, my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) and I drove the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill), across the Pennines from Sheffield towards Manchester. I did not think he could understand how bad the Woodhead pass was, and why people willingly drove over it, until we took him back over the Snake pass. A few crawler lanes on the Woodhead might be a short-term sticking-plaster, but in the end it is a tunnel under the Pennines—after all, they are only 2,000 feet high—that is the real long-term answer. When is the review of such a project likely to start, who is likely to conduct it, and when, realistically, could work actually start if the go-ahead is given?

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the issues around the Snake pass. I know there are safety concerns there, and I have obviously used the road myself. He knows that this Government have at their very heart the idea of a northern powerhouse. We are championing the interests of the north of England, perhaps to a greater degree than any previous Government. To that end, I shall look at all the specific questions that the hon. Gentleman asks on timing, on detail and on planning, and I shall be more than happy to address them directly with him.

Will my right hon. Friend direct his attention to junction 8 on the M11, the second name of which might be “Congestion”? Is he aware that the decision to site the motorway services area at the junction that is the main entrance to Stansted airport has been the cause of that and is now, apparently, being seen as a block to any plans for the housing that is needed in the area?

This is not the first time that my right hon. Friend has raised this matter. Indeed, since I became a Transport Minister, I have spent a good deal of my life answering his perfectly proper and assiduous inquiries and representations on behalf of his constituents on transport-related affairs. He is right that there is a history of congestion in that area, and I would be more than happy to look at it and take his advice and guidance on the matter.

Back in September, the Public Accounts Committee described the Government’s approach to local road maintenance, which, as we know, is a major cause of congestion, as “ludicrous”. Now, despite the rather bashful claims that the Minister has made today about Monday’s road announcement, I have not actually heard members of the PAC queuing up to say that they have changed their mind. Does that not tell him something?

While I focus—understandably, I hope—on the major changes that we are making as a result of this unprecedented road investment strategy, this extraordinarily bold and long-term vision, the hon. Gentleman is right that local roads matter too. That is why we are spending just short of £1 billion a year, and why we have planned to resurface 80% of the roads in the whole country. All roads, in the end, are local, aren’t they, and local roads will not be neglected under this Administration.