Skip to main content

Road Investment Strategy

Volume 591: debated on Thursday 22 January 2015

I have looked at the prepared answer and it is mind-numbingly turgid, so I will do something of my own. This Government have introduced a road investment strategy with a plan for road investment that is backed up by finance and informed by empiricism, and it is the most ambitious plan since the 1970s. The whole House can look forward to a future considerably brighter than the past that we endured under the last Government.

I ask my right hon. Friend, who is affectionately known locally as the people’s Minister, to look favourably on the proposal to have a tunnel under Morecambe bay as it would add to the northern powerhouse proposals that the Chancellor is looking into and envisaging for the country.

I wondered whether my hon. Friend might ask this question, because he has raised the subject in an Adjournment debate and I know that he is a great champion of his constituents’ interests. I thought, as you must have done, Mr Speaker, of Ezra Pound, who said:

“What matters is not the idea a man holds, but the depth at which he holds it”.

Any man who advocates tunnelling at this scale certainly holds an idea at very great depth indeed. This is a matter for local councils—for Lancashire and Cumbria—and it is for them to consult their local enterprise partnerships. Nevertheless, I am interested in the scheme and am happy to invite my hon. Friend to the Department to discuss it with officials and see what can be done.

I do not know whether the Minister has a prepared answer for this one, but may I take him back just a few weeks to the launch of a poster showing a road smoothly stretching out into the distance which was discovered to be a German road full of potholes that had been airbrushed out? Is that why he and other Ministers are trying to airbrush out the fact that spending for local road maintenance will be lower in real terms in 2020 than it was in 2010?

Road maintenance is just short of £1 billion a year. This Government are not neglecting road maintenance and we are certainly not neglecting roads—[Interruption.] I know the hon. Gentleman thinks that I am smooth, but I am never airbrushed. This Government’s commitment to roads is unprecedented and I recommend to the Opposition that they recognise that such infrastructure investment is something on which there should be consensus. Unless there is consensus, we will not build the confidence that is necessary to get the investment that is in the national interest.

I share my right hon. Friend’s enthusiasm and confidence about the future under the strategy, although perhaps I do not express it so eloquently. One of the most exciting elements of the strategy is the introduction of smart motorways. Will he say a little about how the Government’s plans for that are going?

My hon. Friend will know that the way in which people drive, the vehicles they use and the interface between the driver and the road will change. That is already happening with smart motorways. We have been innovative in the work we have done on that and there is more to be done, but what is certain is that the Government need to consider all the technological changes that will inform the alteration in how people use roads in the way that he implies. The smart motorways programme is important, but it is also important that we articulate that message more clearly. I know that the Secretary of State will be saying more about this over the coming weeks and months, and I will be too, because I think it is important that people understand the opportunity that lies ahead of us.

The A14 around Kettering between junctions 7 and 9 is being widened. When complete, that will be very good news for Kettering and the national economy, but understandably, while the roadworks are under way, disruption is being caused. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the works will be completed this April, on time?

We will be setting out in the coming weeks a timetable for the completion of a series of schemes associated with this strategy. We need to set out the detail to maintain confidence that we will carry through our intentions. In that context, I will happily discuss with my hon. Friend the timetable for that scheme.